BBC Radio 4, 21 December 2013, BBC Podcasts 28 December - 3 January
Based on a stage show first performed in Cornwall in 2011, and subsequently toured worldwide to great acclaim, Kneehigh's
The Wild Bride seemed particularly suitable for the radio medium. A father (Stuart Goodwin) inadvertently sells
his daughter (Audrey Brisson) to the Devil (Stuart McLoughlin); but if the Devil thought he has acquired a pliant person,
he is doomed to disappointment. The girl not only rejects him, but decides to walk out into the wilderness, leave
her father, and endure a series of trials wrought by nature and time. As she progresses, she repeatedly rebuffs the
Devil, despite his numerous attempts to entrap her. The fairy-tale (or should be morality-play) ends with an unexpected
twist, where we discover that the Devil's true identity.
Ingeniously combining music (by Ian Ross) and a terrific sound score (by Simon Baker and Nigel
Lewis), James Robinson's production exploited the resources of radio to the full to create a phantasmagorical world in which
quite literally anything could happen. Concepts such as "reason" or "plausibility": what mattered more is that the Bride
should retain her integrity as a means of coping with what lay ahead of her. The Devil's continual failures to entice
her reminded me strongly of Ben Jonson's Jacobean satire The Devil is an Ass; but whereas Jonson was using the idea
as a means to satirize the contemporary world (it was so corrupt that not even the Devil could corrupt it), The
Wild Bride showed instead how virtue could always triumph over even the most devious schemer. Such optimism
is completely foreign to Jonson.
The score was infused by the blues - not only reminding us of the moral aspects of this particular musical
genre - but suggesting the fundamentally popular roots of the tale. I referred earlier on to The Wild Bride
as a morality-play; Robinson's production was likewise deliberately populist in orientation, designed not only to attract
the widest possible listenership, but to emphasize the universality of the themes discussed. Both he and his highly
talented cast fulfilled this task admirably.