Giselle review: Ghostly reimagining is a triumph of pure stagecraft
September 19, 2019
Giselle may centre on a love triangle between a peasant girl, her aristocrat lover and her rejected admirer, but the real stars of the show have long been the wilis, the ghostly jilted brides who rise from their graves to murder any man unfortunate enough to stumble across their path.
At the work’s 1841 premiere, newly invented wire work and gas lighting gave the wilis a glamorous supernatural sheen; in Akram Khan’s modern reimagining, clever shadowing and Japanese horror-film styling make them utterly terrifying.
Since its creation for ENB in 2016, Khan’s Giselle — set in a condemned garment factory on an industrial wasteland — has garnered universal praise, with occasional mutterings about its dramaturgy.
If the original Giselle plot is one of simplicity and focus (from the very first moments we know that Albrecht is duplicitous, Giselle a naïve innocent — and that this is not going to end well), then Khan’s version often raises more questions than it answers. Is Albrecht another disposed migrant worker — or one of the parasitic landlords? Who (and what) is Hilarion? How does Giselle die? (The heroine of old had a plot-friendly heart condition; in other stagings, she commits suicide or dies of madness.) Without programme notes to guide you, it’s not always clear.
But the most successful Giselles have always relied on mood rather than narrative for their success — and Khan’s production has that in spades. This is a work of pure stagecraft, from Vincenzo Lamagna’s sound design, which carries ghostly fragments of Adolphe Adam’s original score, to Mark Henderson’s atmospheric lighting and Tim Yip’s terrific set and outlandish Hunger Games-esque costumes.
It’s all topped off with pitch-perfect performances by Tamara Rojo as Giselle, James Streeter as Albrecht and Stina Quagebeur as (an exceptional) Myrtha, who plays the queen of the wilis as an all-out spirit sociopath. A mention too for the precision and commitment of the stick-wielding corps.
Until September 28 (020 7863 8000; sadlerswells.com)