Written by Don Fried
Directed by Andy McQuade
The White Rabbit Theatre
Stoke Newington, London
March 27 - April 14 2013
Review by Alain English
Fringe company Second Skin Theatre continue their run of theatrical hits with this chilling look at Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian Countess accused of murdering over 600 women.
The superb script by Don Fried deftly combines elements of horror, sex and political intrigue combined with a knowing tongue-in-cheek humour that never threatens to descend into parody. On a technical level, it's flawless with brilliant use of set and lighting effects maintaining an atmosphere of impending doom.
It's cast with a powerful ensemble who nail their various characters, most notably George Collie as Sigray who gives his initially bumbling character an unexpected sympathetic edge. Centre of the whole play is the entrancing Mia Zara as Bathory, who delivers a complex and seductive performance. She charts the character's progress from naive young girl to crazed Countess with a flawless precision. Her final moments on stage are a beautifully poetic touch.
For theatre that will chills, entices and tickles the brain cells "Blood Privilege" comes highly recommended.
Interview with Writer Don Fried
1) What gave you the idea to write "Blood Privilege"?
“Blood Privilege” was a commission from Andy McQuade, the Artistic Director of Second Skin Theatre. All he told me was to write a play based on the life of Elizabeth Bathory, of whom I’d never heard, and that the part of Elizabeth would be played by Mia Zara, whom I’d never met. I corresponded with Mia over email and Skype while I was developing the play; I tried to reach Elizabeth Bathory, but she didn’t respond.
2) You have had two productions - firstly in New York and now in London. How has the script developed over time?
There were several workshops and readings of the play before the New York premiere. A number of significant developments, mostly adding depth to Elizabeth’s character, were made after the rest of the script was completed, as a result of those activities. These developments include Elizabeth’s monologue talking about the role of women, her interrogation in the courtroom scene, her yearning for love, and the depth of her devastation at having her first baby forcibly taken from her. The “bookend” scenes at the beginning and end were actually suggested by Mia and Andy after I’d sent them drafts of the first couple of scenes.
While little changed in script terms between the New York and London runs, the direction and productions are totally different. It’s amazing how different that makes the experience of watching the play.
The one scene that has been added in London, Elizabeth bathing, resulted from a workshop idea that Mia came up with a couple of days before the opening here!
3) Describe your writing career up until this point?
I retired from the business world in 2006, after living and working throughout Europe for 30 years in the Information Technology Industry. My first play was “Present Future,” a classic London-style farce. Since then I’ve written 9 more full-length plays, from comedies to murder mysteries to political thrillers to dramas. They have had over 40 productions throughout the U.S., in the U.K. and in Canada. In the past year and a half, I’ve also taken up screenwriting. “Cure for Love,” which I wrote under contract to an Austin, Texas-based indie film company, is currently in production planning. I’m in discussions with a film company regarding “Senior Moments,” a screen adaptation of my most produced stage play.
4) Do you think your plays, in particular "Blood Privilege,” have any recurring messages or themes?
One theme which has been secondary in several other of my plays, but which has come to the fore in “Blood Privilege,” is the concentration and abuse of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny global elite. This is something that became important to me during years in international business. A second theme, which came from my 30 years of living and working in many different countries, is culture clash and the problems of people “without countries.” And a third theme is why people create literature and art, if they’re not going to get rich and famous doing it. I suppose that comes from my (unreasonable) frustration at not having my work on the West End and Broadway within the first few years of starting to write.
5) What's your next project and can we expect to see it in London?
“Phoenix,” a play inspired by the tragic life, death, and rise to fame after death of 60s/70s British singer/songwriter Nick Drake, was another commission given to me by Andy and Second Skin Theatre. It premieres at the Camino Real Playhouse in San Juan Capistrano, California, this May. It won’t fit in the White Rabbit Theatre, but I’m hoping that we’ll find a venue in London to produce it in the winter 2013/14.