Please respect the paywall: Angela Carter’s The Tiger’s Bride by the Marvellous Machine Theatre Company in Oxford

Critics and fans list The Tiger’s Bride among The Company of Wolves continuously as a favourite of Angela Carter’s fairy tale retellings in The Bloody Chamber which was first published in 1979. My edition counts twenty pages of this interpretation of The Beauty and Beast myth: A young girl has been lost in a card game by her gambling father in Tuscany while the two visit from Russia.

When I read that a small theatre company has made the recording of their staging from 2017 available online behind a very reasonable (and uncomplicated) paywall, I block an hour immediately; the play does not take more time than reading Angela Carter’s narrating would take, even when completely indulging her lush language and fabulous descriptions.

The camera shows audience heads, records plenty of coughs and several people get up and leave, forcing other audience members to get up for them and let them leave the row. And I do not mind that on the recording as these people hopefully watch it as well and consider waiting when visiting an hour long performance next time – it annoys other audience members, in real life and virtually, and I am sure it annoys the ensemble. The small orchestra is lit by fairy lights, the acoustic elegance of tonewoods is lost and the piano predominates what is spoken on stage. No chaos compared to what the independent theatre scene goes through now.

Carter’s exorbitant writing style is not reflected on the stage’s interior but that is absolutely understandable for anyone not accessing Baz Luhrman’s production budget – here in the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford picture frames are reinvented as props for many things and transformations and that is magical in its own right.

Press picture thanks to Caleb Sivyer and Stephen Poole

We meet The Beast, a professional master gambler under a white mask, a soulless poker face silently communicating only through his valet who has his estate running by automatons rather than human servants. With them the music turns more mechanical, balanced later beautifully with melancholic xylophone. Or have I got used to the style twenty minutes in?

Our protagonist does something at the front of the stage and the audience giggles, but I cannot see what it is. Tiny-eared elephants appear on stage or are they people wearing comical gas masks? It does not matter what is represents; the resemblance is so very Angela Carter that it is me who now giggles to myself.

During a shadow play, a note pops up apologizing for the video quality here and shares that a transformation is happening now on stage, that a mask is offered, and a dress removed – the heroine is alone with the Beast. With this explanation necessary, all well-meant stage magic has vanished, I am not touched by the finale’s song, no matter how beautiful the piano, how dramatic the drumrolls and the and choir piece. But what counts is that I am sure I would have been, had I sat in a red-velvet audience seat back then.

Reading short stories on holiday is an advice I happily pass on

This is not an ideal format to sell a show and a recording never made with commercial intentions – when filming this, would anyone at Marvellous Machine Theatre ever thought it would become a lifeline for them? My Saturday morning coffee and I enjoyed watching it under the sofa blanket and supporting the right people.

For me watching theatre on screen works only if it is a topic I am generally interested in – the experience similar to the life-changing surprise after a spontaneous visit to a random ticket office has not happened yet and I have discontinued watching quite a lot of productions already. My current escapism focuses is on Bulgakov and Tolkien, the French Revolution and of course fairy tales. Bring ‘em on.

*** out of 5 stars

The Tiger’s Bride by Angela Carter, produced and directed by Lou Corben

The Tiger’s Bride was available for streaming until the beginning of May on Marvellous Machine’s WordPress page.

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