Attila Theatre’s Skin Deep is an intriguing and atmospheric piece of theatre with an original and often absorbing story line. However, some strong performances aren’t enough to make sense of the confusing and seemingly incomplete script.
I watched Skin Deep without knowing anything about it beforehand, as I approach all shows to a certain extent. From the very opening, the dialogue between the characters flowed well and I found myself being carried along by the play even when I was confused as to where it was going, or what certain physical theatre sequences were trying to tell me. An excellent sound design by Ross Kernahan brought much of the atmosphere – the music was pitched perfectly to enhance the eerie mood of the piece.
Ashley Winter was excellent as Erzsébet Báthory, the infamous blood countess of 16th Century Hungary, around whom the action focussed. She could, on many occasions, have descended into melodrama, but instead gave a truly relatable performance of a woman that would grow up to be despicable. In Winter’s hands, Erzsébet was likable. Even in her most bratty and sadistic scenes, her inner turmoil and bold tenacity shone through, winning the audience over.
Another mention must be given to Clementine Mills, who as Erzsébet’s trusted confidant (and perhaps more), said hardly anything throughout the piece. Yet her performance still managed to stand out amongst a company of eleven, and displayed a purity that not many actors can pull off. Her and Winter had genuine chemistry from their first scene together until the dramatic (and again, confusing) conclusion. Hanna Rohtla was also excellent, making bold choices with her Darvulia, and was committed to the sexy, sadistic interpretation from the beginning to end.
However, having had no prior knowledge of who Báthory was, it was unclear to me what the play was attempting to do. It missed opportunities to explore our expectations of masculinity (Ferenc’s impotence, played sensitively by Oscar Scott-White was an interesting plot point that faded to nothing), and for a play that claimed to show the making of a murderer, the piece never really got any deeper into explain Bárthory’s actions than a few stylish, but random, sequences of flashing light, moody music and horrific images.
Attila Theatre should be commended for producing a piece of theatre that is so far removed from the topical, millennial theatre that we see so often during Fringe Festivals. The imaginative costume design proved that it doesn’t always have to be a big budget production to take the audience to a different time and provide an escape. And despite this, along with a few stand out performances, the script is lacking the clarity and purpose needed to bring the story of Bárthory to life.