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Big Bad review at the Vaults, London – ‘visceral and grisly’

Arabella Gibbins in Big Bad at Vault Festival, London
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One-woman shows don’t come much more visceral than this. Jodi Gray’s Big Bad, directed here by Deirdre McLaughlin, sees a solo performer – the fearsome Arabella Gibbins – chained up in a torture chamber, slowly recounting her grisly life story to an unseen captor.

At first, you think she’s just your run-of-the-mill, cannibalistic serial killer. A real Chamber of Horrors gem, brutally attacked as a young woman, then infected with an insatiable bloodlust herself. Slowly, though, you realise that she’s something else entirely. Something furrier. Something supernatural. Something wolfish.

Gray’s writing has a real, eviscerating gruesomeness to it, describing murders in nasty, graphic detail and evident sexual glee. Gibbins is more than up to the challenge. She puts in a powerhouse performance of unrelenting intensity. Cackling and snarling her way through the text, she’s every inch an abomination. A caged monster, prowling her confines, taunting her tormentor with sly intelligence and naked femininity.

McLaughlin’s production is equally galling – a purgatorial blend of strobe lighting, grinding noises and uncompromising images. At one point, the straight-jacketed Gibbins sits down, her chains taut, and devours a bowl of human flesh, licking the blood from her fingers with orgasmic enthusiasm.

All suitably grim then, but what does it mean? Is it a cautionary tale about sexual fetishes? Or an allegory about the repercussions of rape (in which case it’s hugely problematic)? Or simply a nightmarish bedtime story? It’s hard to tell. For all the innards on display, Big Bad is a little lacking in guts.

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A grisly, gruesome staging of Jodi Gray’s visceral one-woman play