Female-led performance collective Shotgun Carousel present the haunting world of the Red Palace, where your childhood fairy tales have grown up deliciously twisted – but beware the cracks in the illusion they create.
Masks are on and the drinks are flowing as you are welcomed into the palace of the Prince, where glamour is served cold with a side of danger. The Prince is throwing a party to celebrate a thousand days of his rule and distract from the shadow of a deadly prophecy that hangs over him. After being cajoled into support for the masked monarch, the audience is free to explore the riches of the ‘palace’, whose crooked opulence reveals the cruelty behind the mask and the shaky foundation his kingdom lies on.
Performed in the atmospheric Vaults Theatre, Shotgun Carousel has big shoes to fill, following in the footsteps of massive interactive theatre companies such as Les Enfants Terribles, and their Olivier Award-nominated show Alice’s Adventure’s Underground. It’s a venue perfect for creating fantasies and adding intensity to any performance – the constant rumbling of the world above is a haunting, if accidental, leitmotif.
“Glamour is served cold with a side of danger”
Exploring the sumptuous sets, it is clear that you are not in Disney princess territory anymore. Instead, the multi-rolling and multi-talented cast present something far more cynical, if just as beautiful. From the eerie attic of alcoholic seer Baba Yaga (played by Porscha Present) to the pink-puff bedroom of pop-princess Snow (Alice Morgan-Richards) who waits for her true love with a broken mirror, to a tragic Gretel (played by Emer Dineen) trapped in an endless striptease, the performances are compelling and highly eclectic. Whether learning a dance from a princess or locked in a jail by a fantastically maniacal cat (played by Joanna Vymeris), the stellar performances made the suspension of disbelief a real pleasure accompanied by some truly haunting moments (especially if you are a jumpy audience member like me).
Performed by an entirely female, non-binary and trans cast, feminist threads are weaved throughout the performance which prioritises female experience, pain and rage. While a traditional fairy tale obsession with ‘true love’ is still present, this love presents unexpected soulmates and is used as a rallying cry against oppression. A flesh-hungry Ariel even dismisses an audience member’s comment about finding her prince with “that’s pretty heteronormative”.
This is the magic of immersive theatre; the contract between the audience and performer requires the audience to believe in the moment. However, the cracks appear not just in the palace’s grandeur but in the performance itself. One complaint, that may seem small but is none the less fatal to the show’s illusion building, was that as the audience explored we were ushered by staff dressed in the classic backstage uniform (blacks). This constant reminder that we were just watching a performance was jarring and especially unfortunate considering the attention to detail within the performance, making it hard to fully immerse myself.
Also, the freedom to explore the palace combined with the limited time frame, comes at the risk of missing key plot points (which I did – make sure you visit ‘The Forest’ if you don’t want to get confused). This lack of direction meant the narrative threads the play weaved left me tangled and confused by the end, as the climactic moments of the performance were made up of references I hadn’t come across in my journey.
“Entertaining, versatile and aesthetically indulgent”
Aside from the missed references, the rushed and slightly forced ending was the one part that left me disappointed. This was such a shame, especially as the finale makes theoretical sense in terms of the plot. But with its hasty execution, as themes built up throughout the performance are sledge-hammered in without delicacy, the ending almost feels like it’s been taken from a different show. With the potential created by pathos and drama the performance’s multiple narratives had built up, and the charismatic and talented performance of the Prince (played by Eleanor Dillon-Reams), it felt like a truly memorable ending had been squandered. It’s the ending you want in a way that you didn’t want it.
But as a disco strikes up with empowering tunes (think ‘Who Run the World’ by Beyoncé), I couldn’t help leaving the venue feeling empowered. Ultimately, the performance was entertaining, versatile and aesthetically indulgent in the best way, but it unfortunately finishes with a shallow ending when you wanted to swim out to the deep end.
However, go with friends, dress up in your finest ball attire and enjoy it for the sheer experience it is.
Image: Nic Kane Photography