FRINGE 2017: THEATRE – The Baby Farmer – Bakehouse Theatre – 5K

For the poor and downtrodden lowest classes of Victorian London, life was appallingly bleak, and often short. Yet, over a century later, it’s possible to find a peculiar, fanciful, beauty connected to the horror that was the daily life of these people; which lends itself so well to tales of the macabre. It is within this partly factual, partly fictional idea of East End Whitechapel at the end of the 19th century, that writer/performer Nick Ravenswood has set The Laudanum Project’s tale of The Baby Farmer.

As an eerie soundscape is created by composer/musician Gareth Skinner, the audience is introduced to the story of Agatha May, an innocent and neglected six year old, whose life is changed by the appearance of a sinister and elusive white faced man. The whole darkly compelling aesthetic surrounding this production (there is an accompanying visual art exhibition in the foyer showcasing beautiful charcoal illustrations, by Chloe Neath, from a specially commissioned adult picture book) should give audiences an idea of what is to follow; it is discomforting, gripping, ominous – and fantastic.

While Ravenswood’s vocal performance, coupled with the superb mix of accompanying keyboard and cello music, could easily be produced as an audio recording, much would be lost from not experiencing his corresponding physicality. From the moment he staggers on stage he holds the audience’s attention for the full 80 minutes, with his intensely unsettling and powerful characterisation. The whites of darkly encircled eyes shine out at the audience, with a fevered malevolence, while his twisted body brings to mind other creepy characters of folklore from the same era, like Spring-heeled Jack. His voice, movement and gestures are perfectly proportioned to the confined space in which he works. His storytelling is measured and well-paced, his voice rising and falling to create an uneasy feeling of calming menace, always projected at just the right level to compliment the background music.

The intensity of the piece was best illustrated by the hushed, shocked silence of the audience once the final words were spoken, which preceding rapturous applause, and relieved laughter once the lights came back on. This show won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you like your stories melancholic, and enjoy the feeling of tense foreboding that really good tales of suspense can create, this is a truly spine-chilling experience, which may just make you jump in your seat.

Kryztoff rating: 5K

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