Latest Review – Robin/Red/Breast [Aviva Studios, Manchester]


Aviva Studios, Manchester

Until Sunday 26th May 2024

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

First broadcast as part of the BBC’s influential Play for Today series on 10 December 1970, Robin Redbreast is widely considered to be a landmark of the British folk horror genre, steeped in rich Pagan culture and traditions, and often seen as a precursor to Robin Hardy’s folk horror masterwork, The Wicker Man (1973).

In the film, script editor Norah packs up her home in London and moves to a remote countryside cottage with her boyfriend, only to find herself trapped in an increasingly sinister village with increasingly sinister villagers.

In their latest collaboration for Factory International, co-creators Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight have now transformed the piece into an immersive and visceral multi-sensory monologue that presents a fresh interpretation of the story, focusing the lens on the complex and timely themes of fertility, bodily autonomy and the psychological effects of rural isolation.

A scene from Robin Red Breast by Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, Imogen Knight, Daisy Johnson and Gazelle Twin @ Aviva Studios, Manchester © Tristram Kenton

The production is presented in the round – technically a hexagon! – with the audience seated around the space on wooden benches – with the hollowed out frame of a wooden cottage sitting ominously centre stage. Through the silence, a brass band can be heard in the distance. The music gets louder and the all-female band file in, adorned in full red regalia, leading a haggard and weary Norah (Peake) onto the stage.

As we enter the auditorium we are given headphones to be used for the first portion of the production. During the first blackout, we are instructed to put on the headphones, and then remove them again during the second blackout.

It may seem slightly gimmicky but it’s an effective creative choice and helps establish that voyeuristic tone as we watch Norah performing mundane, day to day tasks, with her pre-recorded narration fed, almost telepathically, straight into our minds. Much of the establishing events of the film are condensed during this first twenty-five minutes.

Following the second black out, the monologue is then continued live to detail further aspects of Norah’s chilling ordeal before switching tone again, with Norah delivering the final and most affecting part of the play to a women’s support group, with the band members now dressed in ordinary day to day clothes to portray the rest of the group.

A scene from Robin Red Breast by Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, Imogen Knight, Daisy Johnson and Gazelle Twin @ Aviva Studios, Manchester © Tristram Kenton

The text is undoubtedly powerful and Peake gives a typically strong performance that delves deep into the emotional core of the character, but the overall production never quite lives up to that dark and sinister folk horror label, often lacking the unsettling atmosphere expected from the genre.

It all feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that just doesn’t match the overall branding. The poster image is dark and foreboding. It could almost be a promotional still for the new series of The Traitors. What is presented largely eschews those stylistic elements, and many of the traditional folk horror traits for something more penetrating and visceral. There’s plenty of weight and depth to the text but the overall staging is minimalist, with no real tension or moments of slow burning horror.

Running Time: 55 minutes (approx.), with no interval.

Final Performance at Aviva Studios, Manchester: Sunday 26th May 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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