The Forbidden Door – Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol
Director: Sally Cookson
Reviewer: Claire Hayes
As the storytelling magic of The Forbidden Door unfolds, we realise we are being told not just one tale, but many. Here are the threads of half-remembered fables, woven together and breathed into new life with captivating skill and evocative music.
After their 2012 success with A Love Like Salt, The Devil’s Violin returns to the Tobacco Factory with another mesmerising and mythical adventure. If you were ordered by your father, on the cusp of his leaving for battle, not to open a particular door, what would you do? At first you might meekly comply, but as the weeks and months pass by, curiosity gnaws away at you – an itch demanding to be scratched. In the end, more than likely, you’d open that door and unleash the forbidden power of whatever lies within.
Stories are older than language itself, and we are attuned to their power, so there’s something very elemental about watching and listening as Daniel Morden conjures up this tale of transgression. He commands the bare stage with pace, rhythm and melodrama, which he then proceeds to skewer at intervals with an off-the-cuff reference to latecomers or a short and pithy one-liner. The world he describes fuses with the melodies created by Sarah Moody, Dylan Fowler and Oliver Wilson-Dickson; primarily with cello, violin and guitar they draw on influences from folk and world music, with touches of classical and jazz. You could be sitting in a field under a night-starred sky, warming your hands round a blazing camp fire, rather than on the smart red benches of the Factory Theatre.
Morden spins a multi-stranded tale of the far-reaching consequences when a King is disobeyed by two of his three daughters. Do we detect echoes of King Lear? And the door itself harks back to Bluebeard andThe Bloody Chamber retellings of Angela Carter. There are creation stories here, the King of the Sun and the Queen of the Moon and the destructive forces of the four winds, threading through Beauty and the Beast, shades of Rapunzel and more. There’s jealousy and deceit, banishment and despair, hope and humour and above all the transformative power of love. It’s a visceral combination which resonates and only towards the end does it begin to feel a little over-long.
This essentially low-tech evening is enhanced by simple, effective lighting; golden for the sun, silvery for the moon and dimmed for the night-time bedroom of the princess and the husband she’s not allowed to look upon. Now you don’t get that round a camp-fire. The Forbidden Door runs for one more night at this venue, but there are further opportunities to see it on tour until the end of May.