The Taxidermist’s Daughter review – Kate Mosse’s gothic mystery stuffed with visual thrills | Theatre


Gothic chillers are rare in modern theatre but Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black is still running in London 33 years after opening. Producers are understandably alert to the hope of making lightning strike twice.

Daniel Evans, boss at Chichester, has commissioned Kate Mosse to adapt her blood-soaked mystery, set around the local West Sussex marshlands during the record wet spring of 1912. In The Taxidermist’s Daughter, Connie has taken over the stuffing of animals her father is too drunk to see. Shivers reliably build through ingredients including Connie’s elusive sense of childhood trauma, a creepy clique of town grandees, and mysterious women seen among the reeds – all against the escalating threat of what we now call an extreme weather event.

Róisín McBrinn’s production – featuring violent moments going eyeball-to-eyeball with King Lear – is visually engulfing. A stage direction such as Mosse’s “the sea wall cracks” would once have relied on sound effects and audience goodwill. Now, Andrzej Goulding’s video design and Prema Mehta’s lighting flood the stage so terrifyingly that we almost fumble under seats for lifejackets. Paul Wills’s set is a lovely puzzle of rising and sliding parts, fluidly introducing medical and museum vitrines, homes, offices and coastland.

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

Mosse’s main trade is impressive novels which may make her dialogue sometimes baldly explanatory – “I had an accident when I was a child. I don’t always remember” – in the way of a narrator’s usually candid relationship with the reader, rather than more ambiguous theatre speech, leaving actors space to grace-notes with voice and face. More subtext is generally what the piece needs: the story is always plotty and enjoyable but metaphors suggested by the dominant morbid imagery might have been pushed further in the script.

As Connie, newcomer Daisy Prosper has charm and command in the difficult part of a central character who is usually less informed than the audience. Pearl Chanda as Cassie, a woman defined by mystery, avoids the floaty tone that 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 has.

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