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The Taxidermist's Daughter - Chichester Festival Theatre

The already vast Chichester Festival Theatre stage space expands further than usual in The Taxidermist’s Daughter, with screens on either side of the stage. These, when combined with the ones already on stage, are used for some stunning special effects. The production saves the best of these until the end, when an almighty storm sweeps through, leaving characters out of doors on foot struggling to get anywhere. Quite why any of them are outside at all would be giving too much away, suffice to say that having everyone inside, sheltered, catching up on their reading or life admin or whatever, wouldn’t exactly be riveting to watch.

It's very well-choreographed, with wet and windy weather portrayed without having to engage one’s imagination and, at the same time, without a drop of actual water splashed on to the set. This is not the stuff of ‘poor theatre’, but rather a clever and detailed portrait of the kind of British weather in nobody bothers with an umbrella – to do would be an exercise in futility. In the indoor scenes, however, the stage looks far too big.

This stage adaptation does well to combine the uses of stagecraft and dialogue to create an atmosphere appropriate to the moment. For reasons that only become clear later on, Cassie Pine (Pearl Chanda) receives a number of visitors in darkness, though there is sufficient light for the audience to see what is happening. It hardly takes a rocket scientist to work out that one must imagine it is too dark to see a thing!

The second half is infinitely better than the first, inasmuch as various riddles introduced before the interval are resolved after it. The focus is not so much on Crowley Gifford’s (Forbes Masson) daughter Connie (Daisy Prosper), despite the show’s title, but rather on what happened to Cassie. Set in 1912, taxidermy was apparently in decline (I say ‘apparently’ as there is still an organisation called The Guild of Taxidermists), and while reference is made to the Giffords’ now defunct museum of taxidermy specimens, that all becomes rather secondary once Connie’s memory, damaged by some kind of childhood accident, is sufficiently triggered to remember another deeply unpleasant event – a deliberate attack on the vulnerable and defenceless Cassie.

They might as well have called it Cassie. Things take such a gory turn that I momentarily wondered whether I was watching a movie directed by Quentin Tarantino based on a novel by Stephen King. There were audible gasps from the audience, and not just at what was on show. What is said, especially when Connie and Cassie meet for the first time in at least a decade, resonates with modern times: sometimes there are things that women must do because women are not listened to and treated seriously. This goes some considerable way to understanding why Cassie took the course of action she did, and there are mixed feelings of satisfaction and disgust as she exacts her revenge on those who treated her so cruelly. Not for the fainthearted.

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