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Gothic in All its Guises 2
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Gothic in All its Guises 2

Female Gothic

George Fleeton

Written by George Fleeton

Rebecca Vaughan is a frequent and welcome visitor to Down Arts Centre: twice in 2011 with I, Elizabeth and Austen’s Women, last year in The Diaries of Adam and Eve and most recently, on February 10, in Female Gothic.

In adapting and presenting I, Elizabeth two years ago, Vaughan chose to dramatise the historical record by integrating fluently four key elements of Elizabeth’s many dilemmas: marriage, succession, her cousin Mary and religion.

It worked beautifully.

Female Gothic  is an equally refined, neatly designed and costumed affair supporting a well written direct-to- audience solo performance, given without a break and nicely sustained for 75 minutes.

Both in this, and in Austens’ Women (November 2011), Vaughan excelled herself in much more ambitious and demanding shows.

In the latter performance, for example, she took on over a dozen female characters who turn up in the pages of Jane Austen’s six well known novels.

That worked very effectively too.

And Vaughan’s hallmarks – uncluttered staging, nuanced lighting, and carefully designed sound effects – facilitated the invisible segues between narrator and character, just like an accomplished operatic soprano transiting from recitative to showpiece aria.

There is something deep within us that keeps drawing us to the theatre, and to opera and ballet.

Whatever that unspoken attraction is it certainly does not apply to cinema and television.

These latter media lack the sense of mystery and excitement that comes with live performances on stage.

For it’s in the theatre or opera house that we get a real appreciation of ability, talent and commitment, hardship even, of writers, composers, directors, actors, singers and dancers as our individual and collective imaginations are fired and forged in those amphitheatres of drama.

None of this is lost on Rebecca Vaughan nor in her performances, so Female Gothic had to be the best of her four chamber pieces to date? – and it was.

Her three chosen tales, drawn down from a selection of 19th century female writers of gothic fiction,  were intent on offering us the world of the sinister and the strange, as perceived and told by a forgotten generation, and then to intrigue, thrill and transport us into their world and on into the darkness beyond.

As performer, adaptor and producer Vaughan’s pièce de théâtre could not have been bettered, and her carefully designed sound effects were just perfect.

Tale 1 dealt with the ‘embrace of the dead’

v. the ‘ceremony of the living’ and the doomed love affair of Gertrude and Wilhelm.

Did Tale 2 really deal with vivisection and chemically-induced ways of intensifying all five senses, the end of hope, the quick and the dead, and the bizarre experiments of Professor Boyd Thompson, whose soul was in his work?

At that point we were so absorbed by what had just passed that the jolt of the third Tale (with its cupboard and the ‘reconstitution of matter’, and Mabel babysitting for two friends) simply topped all that had gone before.

The dramatic conviction with which Vaughan conveyed the mysterious and the macabre in fiction few of us would have read, with its recurring themes of suppressed sexuality, monstrosity and the transgression of Victorian society’s strait-laced norms, had to be spot-on.

It was.

These forgotten female gothic writers, which she was celebrating, had stood toe-to-toe in the penny dreadful stakes of the 1800s with Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens and Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, Gaston Leroux, Wilkie Collins, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, H.G. Wells and Victor Hugo.

So, for the record, who and what was Rebecca Vaughan reading before imagining Female Gothic?

Add these to your reading lists – if you dare.

Mary Shelley, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Edith Nesbit, Elizabeth Gaskell, M.E.Braddon, Ellen Wood and Amelia Edwards.

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For more information about Vaughan, her company and her special brand of theatre, see

www.dyadproductions.com

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George Fleeton’s next music promotion is the Wildflowers in Concert on March 15 at 8pm in the Saint Patrick Centre Downpatrick.

Tickets, £15, are available from 028 4461 7184 or 028 4461 9000.