SUPERSTITION, religious fervour, jealousy, domination and unrequited love are at the centre of Fermented Honey, a piece devised by graduating actors on the performing arts courses at Arts University Bournemouth based on the writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda.
The setting is the Santa Clara asylum for female lunatics. The stage of Pavilion Dance is lined with white gauze, demarked by a grille of trellised wood. Microphones allow members of the 17-strong ensemble to provide the sound effects in view of the audience.
Lee Hart’s direction highlights the uncomprehending horror of life for the women, dependent on a daily round of medication, food, exercise, lights on … and off. Why are they incarcerated, who has locked them away, are all their “sins” the result of unfeeling men? It’s a salutary question, this year in particular.
At the centre of the story is a girl, daughter of a nobleman and his self-obsessed wife, who has been bitten by a rabid dog. The dog’s previous victim is raving mad, so it follows (say the experts) that the girl will also be mad. After the biting, she is cared for by African servants, but at the age of 14 she is returned to the family.
Conflicting advice confuses the weak but well-meaning father, and when plan A fails, he turns to God, in the figure of a Bishop keener on demonstrating his power than on “curing” the child. He appoints a young priest to research the girl’s condition, but instead of exorcism, the young man thinks love will be the best treatment.
The nuns who run the asylum step in, relishing cruel punishments for supposed transgressions.
There is nothing easy about Fermented Honey, performed with a passionate intensity by the talented young company. Outstanding among them are Niamh-Lily Garvey as the girl, Camille Bell as the mother, Lily Marian Scanlon as Martina, a murderous prisoner of the nuns, and Bevan Thomson as the young priest. It is an ensemble piece, and the oppressive atmosphere and helpless terror are underpinned by movement, music, lighting and sound and a company who prove their versatility at the end of their course. Let’s hope to see them again soon at the start of their professional careers.