Wednesday, May 22

Bluebeard – HOME, Manchester

Lighter nights and the promise of Spring is in the air as I sit in Tony Wilson Place outside HOME, Manchester’s gorgeous arts venue, which is finally delivering on its promise of new and interesting devised work as well as the best in challenging theatre from the UK and beyond. ‘Bluebeard’, the new offering from Wise Children, the company formed by Emma Rice in 2018, certainly falls into the latter category and offers an evening of music, magic and bizarre humour with a hard-hitting message wrapped in sumptuous theatrical style.

We are led into this world by Mother Superior (Katy Owen), resplendent in the eponymous beard of the title, relating the cautionary tale of Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska) and her two daughters Trouble (Stephanie Hockley) and Lucky (Robyn Sinclair) as they become involved with Bluebeard (Tristan Sturrock) who’s initial charm belies a murderous and narcissistic heart. She tells the story to Lost Brother (Adam Mirsky) and it becomes obvious that his arrival at the convent is no coincidence; he is seeking explanation and reconciliation following a terrible family tragedy.

To elucidate further would be to spoil the plot, a glorious mixture of Grand Guignol horror and music hall humour which moves along at a cracking pace without ever appearing to rush, a sure sign that Writer and Director Rice is at the top of her game. Happily, all the trademark touches that have made her productions appeal to critics and audiences alike are present in ‘Bluebeard’; the transposition of a traditional tale into a new and contemporarily relevant setting; superb choreography (Etta Murfitt); colourful and thought provoking Set and Costume (Vicki Mortimer) and above all a musicality that manages to simultaneously dovetail and juxtapose the action perfectly. Doubling as Musical Director as well as Trouble in the main cast, Stephanie Hockley introduces a plethora of musical styles to the original songs in the show, ‘Fearful, Fucked and Furious’ acting as an anthemic, feminist call to arms and allowing the cast of actor/musicians to fully display their range.

The imaginary and the factual in the plot smash together after the interval, the story of Lost Sister (Mirabelle Gremaud) taking precedence and revealing the truth that real life is infinitely more horrible than fairy tales, nodding to Sarah Everard and Zara Aleena in a powerful conclusion that even managed to stun the raucous school party in front of me to shocked silence. Gremaud took the plaudits with a performance that showed all the hope, anger, love and petulance of a young girl gradually discovering her identity and path, ably assisted by all of the small cast of eight in both character and ensemble.

‘Bluebeard’ starts as a fairy tale and concludes as a modern warning against male violence towards women in modern society. The original 1697 story by Perrault admonished women for their curiosity and compelled them to obey their husbands or dire consequences would ensue. Emma Rice has transposed this misogynistic premise, urging modern women to ‘Open The Bloody Door’ and take control.

Playing until 24th February and continuing on tour until 18th May,

Reviewer: Paul Wilcox

Reviewed: 13th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.