REVIEW - Blue Beard at the Birmingham Rep is thought-provoking theatre at its finest - The Coventry Observer

REVIEW - Blue Beard at the Birmingham Rep is thought-provoking theatre at its finest

Coventry Editorial 11th Apr, 2024   0

THE WRITER of Blue Beard, Emma Rice, is also the director of the show and artistic director of one of our most avant-garde theatre companies, Wise Children.

It is a co-production with our own Birmingham Rep; Home Manchester, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Theatre Royal York. These huge creatives have combined with Wise Children to bring Rice’s chillingly relevant re-imagining of the original grim ‘Bluebeard’ to the stage.

The original Blue Beard was first published anonymously in 1697 and republished by Claude Barbin in his anthology of eight fairy tales ‘Histoires ou contes du temps passé’. The plot concerns a cruel man who murders his wives for their money. This sad morality tale has had many incarnations over the years from opera through to horror movies – but nothing quite like this one.

Rice has taken the concept of base male use and abuse of women down a historical trail of misogynism through to murder and made it into a dazzling, yet bewildering, cabaret.

This Blue Beard doesn’t start off dark though, quite the opposite in fact – as we enter the auditorium ladies dressed in nuns’ habits come boho kaftans are playing hopscotch. The fabulous Katy Owen as a blue bearded, sunglass wearing Mother Superior blows a whistle and the house lights go. Wham-Bam and Owen has us in fits of laughter as she leads us into the ‘Convent of the three F’s’ – the Fearful, F****d and Furious.

Picture by Steve Tanner. s

Enter a lost brother (Adam Mirsky) who carries a sign saying ‘Help Me’ and asks the Mother Superior for shelter. The sisters first throw him around like a rag doll and are ready to finish him off – but when he proves harmless, take him in instead.

The lost brother has a lost sister (Mirabelle Gremaud) and their back-story of how they became lost is yet another blind alley to savour.

The other sisters are Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska), who is also the mother of Lucky (Robyn Sinclair) and Trouble (Stephanie Hockley). Completing the troupe is Sister Susie of the Dulimer (Stu Barker). The charismatic Tristan Sturrock plays Blue Beard the sideshow magician come murderous villain.

The company are all multi-talented with perfect acting and dance skills plus being musicians to boot. Individually they shine, collectively they simply sparkle.

In addition to playing Sister Susi, Stu Barker also composed the apt and driven score. Etta Murfitt directs the often breath-taking movement and dance – the kaleidoscopic cavalcade of costume and set-within-a-set design is by Vicki Mortimer and mystical lighting designed by Malcolm Rippeth.

Picture by Steve Tanner. s

After the interval, the show moved into much darker territory culminating in a bloodbath where Bluebeard justly meets his end.

Following this gothic, fairytale ending, a screen flies in showing silent, sobering black and white closed-circuit tv footage of the lost sister being stalked on her way home. Owen casts off her sunglasses and mock beard, drops the comedy and delivers a powerhouse monologue full of anger as she lists some of the women including Sarah Everard who have died for just simply walking home alone.

There is much about this Blue Beard to remember, much to analyse, much to enjoy, much to admire and yes – parts I didn’t quite understand – but undoubtedly Emma Rice is one hell of a talented writer and director.

Blue Beard runs at the Birmingham Rep until April 20. Click here for times, tickets and more information.


Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews


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