Blue Beard

Mar 14 2024 | By More

★★★★☆     Furiously funny

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Tues 12 – Sat 30 Mar 2024
Review by Hugh Simpson

A riotous combination of anger and dizzying theatrical invention, Blue Beard at the Lyceum until the end of the month, is troubling and messy in exactly the right ways.

This adaptation of the immensely problematic traditional tale is by Emma Rice’s Wise Children in collaboration with Birmingham Rep, HOME Manchester and York Theatre Royal as well as the Lyceum.

As one would expect from writer/director Rice, a healthy lack of respect for the source is combined with a performance drawing from a variety of styles. The end result is visually intoxicating as well as having a great emotional impact.

A scene from Blue Beard the Lycuem. Pic: Steve Tanner

The story about a serial wife-killer hardly qualifies as a fairy tale at all, being more of a gory horror story. It is here represented in a decidedly non-naturalistic style, with Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock) represented as a stage magician who first meets his next intended victim Lucky (Robyn Sinclair) when he saws her in half.

It plays out much as expected – after their marriage, Lucky is told there is one room in the house she cannot enter, an instruction she will obviously disregard – but is framed and retold in a way that is designed to give the female characters much more agency. It is also combined with a starker, parallel modern story about a Lost Brother (Adam Mirsky) grieving for his Lost Sister (Mirabelle Gremaud). The whole thing is anchored by a narrator figure (Katy Owen), who is the Mother Superior of the ‘convent of the 3 Fs’.

constantly creative

The script and direction are constantly creative, with elements that yoke the very roots of theatre to the present day. Add to this some distinctly ribald humour (the 3 Fs of the convent stand for ‘fearful, fucked and furious’) and outstanding work by movement director/choreographer Etta Murfitt, and the result is endlessly entertaining.

Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting, Simon Baker’s sound design and Maisie Carter’s fight direction also add to the atmosphere, while Vicki Mortimer’s design is every bit as full of surprises as Rice’s direction.

Robyn Sinclair in Blue Beard at the Lycuem. Pic: Steve Tanner

Aside from the magic, there are other elements of circus and physical theatre, with the music of Stu Barker giving it the feel of a cabaret with songs rather than a full-blown musical. This is reinforced by the performers themselves and Barker providing deft musical accompaniment.

Gremaud, Stephanie Hockley (who plays Lucky’s sister Trouble) and Patrycja Kujawska (her mother Treasure) are particularly impressive in this regard, but there is a togetherness to the ensemble that is striking throughout.

otherworldly air

Sturrock’s villain has an otherworldly air that never quite disguises the horror of his actions; something emphasised by Sinclair’s more realistic and equally effective performance. Owen’s bearded nun, meanwhile, is a magnificent comic performance.

Without giving too much away, it should be pointed out that there is a great deal more to Owen’s role than comedy. As you might imagine, there are moments here that are very dark indeed.

A scene from Blue Beard at the Lycuem. Pic Steve Tanner

There are certainly jolts in tone in a production that will surely be criticised by some for its wilful collisions of style. That is without even mentioning the way that the serious subject matter of male violence is occasionally treated in such a stylised way, and in close proximity to such knockabout stuff.

But this is probably the only way it could have been done. The sudden shifts into tragedy, the refusal to settle down into being one thing – this is surely the whole point. What could be seen as weaknesses – the apparent lack of cohesion, the seeming disregard for clarity – are the greatest strengths. Like Lucky and her family, the production is refusing to behave, to be the ‘good’ and quiet individual that is expected.

There is deep sadness here, but defiance too. In the face of misogyny and violence, the response is not meekness but a determination to stand up and shout (and swear). And that is why this – as well as being funny and frightening – is so compelling.

Running time: Two hours (including one interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay St, EH9 3AX
Tuesday 12 February – Saturday 30 March 2024
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Mats Wed & Sat: 2.30pm
Details and tickets: Book here

Birmingham Rep, 6 Centenary Square, Birmingham B1 2EP
Tue 9 – Sat 20 April 2024
Tue – Sat: 7.30pm; Mats Thurs & Sat: 2.30pm

Details and tickets: Book here

Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London SW11 5TN
Tue 23 April – Sat 18 May 2024
Tue – Sat: 8pm; Thurs, Sat mats: 3pm.
Details and tickets: Book here

A scene from Blue Beard at the Lycuem. Pic Steve Tanner


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Comments (1)

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  1. Bruce Mickel says:

    This the second poor performance we have seen at the lyceum recently: the Sisters and Bluebeard.
    We left Bluebeard at the interval.
    Both productions were amateurish, loud and lacking in subtlety.
    Wat has happened to the Lyceum?