The Stick House – Review
October 29, 2015
It’s not often that a play takes you to a forest deep under the city, but The Stick House manages to do just that. Performed in tunnels under Bristol Temple Meads train station, the audience walks through the action led by guides with torches from one scene to the next, going deeper into the tunnels, and the woods, at every turn.
Set in a forest, the story is centred around a girl trapped in a house made of sticks. Ostracised by the local villagers who think she is a witch, she is also only days away from being claimed by the Beast who won her in a card game when she was young. Her only supporters are her love the woodcutter and village idiot Hobbledehoy. But is she right to trust them?
The performance had a mind-blowing set and staging, with excellent use of digital media as key scenes and backdrops are projected onto the tunnel walls and other surfaces. After starting with a couple of short films shown like this, the audience were taken to the stick house itself. Made of planks and upturned chairs, we peered voyeuristically through gaps in the wood to see the action unfold inside as weird and wonderful characters ran through the huddled audience.
There were lots of interactive elements, making the performance an immersive experience. On arrival everyone was given a board with a name on it to wear around their necks. Later in the show a basket full of wicker dolls with names attached came down from the ceiling, which were given out to the member of the audience with the same name on their board. At high-tension points in the show the dolls would vibrate and flash red, as if their hearts were beating, to warn of impending danger. This was never drawn attention to in the performance and is something that a lot of the audience missed, but this only makes it more special for those who realised what was going on.
Each audience member was also stamped with invisible ink on their wrists before going into the tunnels. At a dramatic scene when a character describes how his mother was branded and taken away, ultraviolet lights made all the audience’s wrists glow with their own ‘brands’. The overall effect was mesmerising and dream-like, as if we had wandered into another world under the city.
With the creepy setting, fantastic sets and whimsical interactive elements, The Stick House was an innovative and immersive experience and the vaguely unsettling atmosphere will leave you wanting more. It will take a while to readjust to life above ground after emerging from the strange world that has been created in the tunnels.