Blue Beard – The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer & Director: Emma Rice

As much a gory tale marred with crimson, the folktaleBlue Beardcasts an eccentric shade over the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until March 30th as a part of its UK tour. Crammed with music, movement, and theatrical enchantment from the vaudeville to the magical. An age-old tale of a man, this time a showbiz conjurer, who plucks women for his wives – murdering them and stowing them away in a locked chamber. And for such a grim and melancholy premise, what audiences are about to witness couldn’t be more flamboyantly mischievous and awakening.

It defies the odds cast against shows with multiple producing houses and wayward reins of adaptation with such a problematic narrative. But Emma Rice’s Wise Children collaboration with HOME Manchester, York Theatre Royal, The Birmingham Rep, and The Royal Lyceum pulls off an absolute pageant of ferociously funny frivolity and fancy in Blue Beard.

Rooted in the historical foundations of storytelling and cabaret, sprinkled with just enough Jamie Oliver to provide pop-cultural flourishes and flavours, Rice’s exhilarating takes on folktale bathes itself in a blue-blooded thirst for violence and humour as it paints elements of reality through the ancient story. At its core, a story on the violence against women, Blue Beard flitters from a narrative style of swearing storytelling sisterhood to a mother and her daughter’s encounter with the titular magician in this flowing piece that resonates with domestic abuse and narcissistic control.

Taken in, especially by Blue Beard is Lucky (Robyn Sinclair), sister to Trouble (Stephanie Hockley), and a woman who happens to always land on their feet with relish and never feels too naïve or led astray, even as they are taken in by Blue Beard’s feats of the fantastical. Meanwhile, living to their moniker (in all the right ways), Hockley’s piano solos and haphazard energy complement their co-stars well; Patrycja Kujawksa’s motherly role, which has all the brass nerve one would hope, makes for an excellent completion of the three-hander of these starring women.

Of the two male characters, Tristan Sturrock’s lithe Blue Beard is every bit the ravishing rogue. Their conjuring trickery and silver-tongued speeches belay a more sinister truth – one which, even if you can see it coming, still manages to entice you through the precipice. And while all of this is going on, a young brother (Adam Mirsky) is searching for his sister (Mirabelle Gremaud, who excellently doubles up as Blue Beard’s original ‘assistant’), whereupon he stumbles across the Mother Superior of the ‘Convent of the Three Fs (fearful, fucked, and furious), portrayed with incredible command of humour and physicality by Katy Owen as our narrator of sorts.

With two (tentatively three) plot threads, Rice’s reimaging could be guilty of rushing, especially with a tidy two-hour run time. But the flowing pace is extraordinarily adept at maintaining focus – not in the least bit down to the opening acts’ bouncing, quasi-cabaret nature and set-up. Rice’s direction works in proximity with Stu Barker peppered in songs and music, which lean back enough to not over-load the production are all used to great, occasionally chilling, effect. With live instruments onstage, all worked into Vicki Mortimer’s design, which almost becomes a never-ending mirror of stages upon the stage, a bag of tricks and projections selling the effect.

Seductive and luxurious – everything is just too funny and frolicking. But the moment the narcissist is caught out, the violence of the piece peaks. The show becomes shorter, direct, and callous; as the knot in your stomach couldn’t drop in further, a descending screen offers one final sombre break to reality. Effective, though perhaps a touch too much in the step-out of the theatrical. But what is it they say, ‘reality is often crueller than fiction?’ Something like that.

Blue Beardis a rare breed. One that takes life – not only in character and plot but in structure and poise. Chaotic. Messy. Dirt in the eyes and martinis on the floor; Blue Beard is as much of an inebriation of the soul as it is an intoxication of visual and sound. A furious show, that rips open the door of possibilities off the hinges, after so many have told them to leave it closed.

Runs until 30 March 2024 | Image:

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