The Taxidermist’s Daughter Review – Kate Mosse’s Goth Mystery Packed With Visual Thrills | Theater

gOthic chillers are rare in modern theatre, but Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black is still playing in London 33 years after it opened. The producers are understandably attentive to the hope of having lightning strike twice.

Chichester boss Daniel Evans commissioned Kate Mosse to adapt his blood-soaked mystery, set in local West Sussex marshes during the record-breaking wet spring of 1912. In The Taxidermist’s Daughter, Connie took over animal stuffing that his father is too drunk to see. Chills reliably build on ingredients like Connie’s elusive sense of childhood trauma, a creepy clique of city greats, and mysterious women seen among the reeds – all set against the growing threat of this what we now call an extreme weather event.

Róisín McBrinn’s production – featuring eye-to-eye violent moments with King Lear – is visually spellbinding. A staging like Mosse’s “the sea wall cracks” would once have relied on sound effects and the goodwill of the audience. Now Andrzej Goulding’s video design and Prema Mehta’s lighting flood the stage so terrifyingly that we’re almost groping under the seats for life jackets. The Paul Wills set is a lovely jigsaw puzzle of rising and sliding pieces, fluidly featuring medical and museum display cases, homes, offices and coastlines.

Charm… Daisy Prosper and Forbes Masson in The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Photography: Ellie Kurttz

Mosse’s main craft is impressive novels which can make his dialogue at times downright explanatory – “I had an accident when I was a kid. I don’t always remember” – in the style of a narrator’s usually frank relationship with the reader, rather than a more ambiguous theatrical discourse, leaving room for actors to grace notes with voice and face . More subtext is usually what the play needs: the story is still plotted and enjoyable, but the metaphors suggested by the prevailing morbid imagery could have been pushed further into the script.

As Connie, newcomer Daisy Prosper has charm and command in the difficult part of a central character who is generally less informed than the audience. Pearl Chanda as Cassie, a woman defined by mystery, avoids the floaty tone such roles risk, finding psychological specificity. Raad Rawi’s distinguished but disconcerting Dr Woolston could have walked out of a Wilkie Collins story – as, in a sense, he did.

At the Chichester Festival Theater until April 30.

Briana R. Cross