Writer Lee Anderson tackles the story of Erzsébet Báthory, one of the most powerful women in sixteenth century Europe and by far the most prolific female murderer in history. Skin Deep explore the her rise to power, coming into her sexuality, and her struggles with social confines. The play has huge potential, but ultimately appears a confused abundance of brilliant ideas on the road to finding its own identity.

The production is filled with dramatic intensity, but falls rather flat by trying to be too many things at once. Bits of horror and gore meddle with scenes that have hints of sexual charge; deviant acts are inserted in between lighter moments that don’t actually lead anywhere.

Báthory’s tumultuous life is only the beginning of Ashley Winter’s portrayal of the Countess. Winter is physical and passionate but seems to hold back for a huge part of the show, her character slipping away from her when confronted with other roles. Her relationship with Oscar Scott-White’s Ferenc is cold and flat, rightly so, and Scott-White’s contribution to the production is full of heart. Ferenc is the most psychologically interesting character – from a cocky heir who desperately wants to go to war to prove himself, to a scarred and PTSD-ridden decorated soldier.

Clementine Mills steals the scene as Lucie the maid. Her exchanges with Winter are multi-faceted and act as the main artery for the whole play. She is the focus of Báthory’s development as a young woman and the crucial factor to her sexual and sadistic awakening. “Affection always ends with someone losing”, Darvulia (Hanna Rohtla), the Viennese brothel keeper, tells the Countess, foreshadowing what is the most painful and unexpected act the audience sees on the stage.

Christopher Montague and Ailin Conant’s direction is crowded with striking and visually compelling concepts. Most noteworthy are their nightmarish and pleasantly disturbing interludes – they give pace and dynamicity to the piece. but eventually get overlooked in the mix of themes & stimuli, the show’s cyclical structure and final climax.

Skin Deep can undoubtedly be the bud of a more conclusive and precise production. The flowing of the script and the spark of the direction need to find a better union, for as of now they almost seem two different entities struggling with their chemistry.

 

★★☆☆☆

Skin Deep played the Lion and Unicorn until 6 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets for other shows in the Camden Fringe, click here.