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Blue Beard | Home Manchester

Blue Beard, written and directed by Emma Rice, is a beautifully crafted, blinding collision between the worlds of fantasy and real life. Rice has adapted this fable - of a wife who discovers her husband’s murderous past behind a locked door in their home – with rich and layered storytelling. This production is surreal and magical, but also heartbreakingly truthful.

Blue Beard unlocks the dark heart of the original story - with reverence to Angela Carter’s interpretation, The Bloody Chamber - to reveal a haunting piece on violence against women that brims with the gritty quality of cabaret. There are fragmented sequences, moving between the story of Lucky (Robyn Sinclair) in her marriage to Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock); the story of her family’s grief following the death of Lucky’s father (also featuring Lucky’s sister Trouble, played by Stephanie Hockley, and their mother Treasure, played by Patrycja Kujawska); the narration by the Mother Superior (Katy Owen) as the leader of the convent of the Three Fs (‘fearful, fucked and furious’); and the backstory of a lost boy (Adam Mirsky) who listens to the Mother Superior’s tale as well as talking about his relationship with his sister (Mirabelle Gremaud). These threads coalesce to create a glitterball of horrifying reflections, showing us the griminess of the original story with all its dark, bloody implications.

We are sucked into and held amidst the show’s flamboyance, in the sparkling magic tricks and elegant movement. The props – the ribbons, the knives, the magical box in which Lucky is cut in half during her first meeting with Blue Beard, and the glittering streamers of blood – create a dark but enchanting aesthetic. The costumes (by Vicki Mortimer) are a combination of the strange creepiness of circus attire and the more modern feel of the sunglasses and plaid dresses worn by the sisterhood of the Three Fs. The bonnets worn by the sisterhood are also perhaps reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale. There is, even in the way the curtains fall smoothly over the action, a constant interplay between the gruesome carnivalesque elements and the production’s rootedness in reality.

The performances, strangely surreal and dream-like, hover from the two-dimensionality of fairy-tale characters – narrated from a distance - to an honest and aching emotionality. Owen allows for a thread of humour to run throughout the play, but is also able to switch beautifully from this role to the emotional importance of the role she plays in the finale; she creates the grounding needed in order for the fanfare of fantasy to bow down to the punching twist of truth in the show’s final moments. Gremaud is also hauntingly memorable, both in her performance as a taunting and tender older sister, and in the moments where we witness her musicality on both the harp and in her singing.

The music, composed by Stu Barker, works beautifully in this production; it is both eery and mesmerising. The cast are all incredibly talented, and the songs are enchanting. Overall, the performances, the songs with their echoing harmonies, the writing and direction, and the set and costumes, all help to unlock the door to a tale which now oozes – free and untethered - out of the confinements of history. Rice’s Blue Beard is a new, bold, and enlightening interpretation.

It is a production filled with anger, hope, and humour, revealing the carcass of domestic violence hidden behind suffocating beauty and magic. It is dream-like and hypnotic, while also managing to jolt you completely awake. Walking home alone after the play is over, a new wave of understanding grows; perhaps you look behind your shoulder at a man in shadow, and there seems to be something ‘blue’ about him. Perhaps he is just a vision, a hallucination. In any case, you grip your keys in between your fingers tight and call your sister until you are safely behind the door that means home, using your weapon to lock yourself in and away from the shadows. Blue Beard illuminates the terrifying alternative ending to this familiar experience, with the colour and vibrancy of freshly shed blood. It is showing at Home Manchester until 24th February, before continuing its UK tour. For more information and tickets, click here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Steve Tanner


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