Blood Privilege is a chilling and atmospheric theatrical experience currently on in the deep dark pit of the White Rabbit Theatre. The timing of this production seems just right, as it comes on the tail end of pop culture’s love affair of the last five years or so with vampires and gothic romance. It is the twisted story of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s life which was mired by both political and romantic hardships. Blood Privilege aims to peel away all the myths surrounding her life and show her as the noblewoman writer Don Fried claims she really was.
The Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Mia Zara)was considered the most powerful woman in Eastern Europe and she stopped at nothing to maintain her beauty. She finds herself amidst great political and social upheaval and has to come to terms with what is happening outside her castle. She is a highly sexualised character with various bi-sexual affairs happening behind the castle walls, but when she is caught out for one of these affairs, her soon to be husband Cuyorgy Thurzo ( Ash Merat) abandons her and she is then forced by the King ( Ross Mullan) to marry the nasty General Ferenc Nadasdy (Dan Shelton). When the King asks her to lend him some money, she asks for his castle as collateral and thus begins the horrific murders she became so famous for. During her 17th century reign, she was accused of carrying out 600 murders of young women and was said to have bathed in the blood of virgins and even deforming their genitals.
Director Andy McQuade made excellent use of the tiny black box theatre and with the help of Lighting Designer Luca Romagnoli, was able to create a very eerie atmosphere. The use of light to illuminate Zara’s face as she looks into the mirror at her younger self, was brilliantly done adding to the frightening settings. The costumes chosen by Sarah Cogan gave the production an edgy goth feel, like something you might see down in Camden Town. I thought this choice put a modern twist on proceedings and I loved the King’s costume in particular with tight leather trousers and a long black fur vest. Ross Mullan mesmerizes in it and was absolutely acerbic in the role.
Zara is also spellbinding as the murderous Countess and was actually called in from Croatia to do the role. I couldn’t think of a better casting choice for Elizabeth. Zara brought so much sensuality that it seemed to be dripping from her in every movement she made on stage. She also had just the right hint of an Eastern European accent and would dip in and out of her incredibly deep vocal range, giving her a sense of authority but always staying right on the edge of madness. The moment she comes out dripping in blood reminded me of another mythical and powerful woman, Lady McBeth, another woman with blood on her hands, only Bathory doesn’t even attempt to wash it off.
George Collie gave a great comedic performance as the goofy lawyer who also tries to make the moves on Elizabeth but to no avail. Considering the dark undertones of the play, I suppose comedy might not be a good fit but I found it to be refreshing and took the edge off a bit.
The play is without a doubt an ambitious one and aims to tell in around 2 hours, the autobiography of one of history’s most fabled, deranged and fierce women. By the time the trial arrives in the second act, I found that there was too little time to develop the events that took place and would have liked to have seen a bit more.
All in all , Second Skin Theatre is one of the few companies in London doing such intriguing work and the risks they are taking on stage are duly noted.
Blood Privilege is on at the White Rabbit Theatre till April 14th
See web site for tickets: www.secondskintheatre.com.