Blue Beard at Birmingham Rep - Review

Blue Beard at Birmingham Rep - Review

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Posted 2024-04-11 by dpmfollow

Tue 09 Apr 2024 - Sat 20 Apr 2024


When former Kneehigh and Globe artistic director Emma Rice called her new theatre company Wise Children after the final novel by writer Angela Carter she was pinning her colours clearly to the mast.

And so it is little surprise that her new adaptation of the fairy tale Blue Beard takes its inspiration as much from Carter’s re-writing of the story as the original. And, in doing so, Rice follows Carter’s example in retelling the classic fairy story Blue Beard with a strongly feminist twist.

The production picks up the original tale in which Blue Beard murders a series of wives and locks their bodies up in a chamber until his final wife discovers her future fate - and decides she won’t willingly follow the pattern.



But Rice also brings the story right into the present day by creating a parallel tale in which a lost brother (Adam Mirsky) relates the fate of his sister (Mirabelle Gremaud) who chooses to walk home alone one night.

The story begins with a group of nuns, the Sisters of the Three Fs (Fearful, F***ed and Furious), as they begin a church service. These women are anything but peace-loving sisters and it rapidly becomes clear they are more than ready to take down any man who they deem a threat.

At their head is the fearsome Mother Superior (Katy Owen) who is a narrator of the Blue Beard tale and a link to the audience. Owen speaks directly to us adding in lots of personality and humour, encouraging us to respond and engaging us in the tale.

We then meet mother Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska) and her two daughters Trouble (Stephanie Hockley) and Lucky (Robyn Sinclair) whose husband and father have just died. We learn that this man was exemplary – he cared for them, made them feel special and loved them. But the trio soon learn that not all men are quite so dependable.

Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock) is introduced to both the audience and the trio of women as a master magician whose knife-throwing and sword-wielding antics are presented as entertainment. But when Lucky falls head over heels for Blue Beard she discovers he has a much more sinister use for knives and swords.

Sturrock gives a great performance as Blue Beard, a man who is superficially alluring and yet unnerving at the same time. And once his temper is unleashed, we see him for the monster he really is.



Sinclair and Hockley are perfectly synchronized as the two sisters, initially mirroring each other as they move around the stage but, once Blue Beard appears, the differences become clear as one falls for his veneer and the other remains wary.

The production is hugely stylish with phantasmagorical sets by Vicki Mortimer which perfectly recreate the surreal world of fantasy. Mortimer’s costumes are also lavish and stylish – from the black dresses worn by the mourning sisters to their crazy party outfits.

Stu Barker’s songs and music are an integral part of the show, taking the story forward and creating mood from the fun to the fearful.

Rice has stated that the tale of Blue Beard always unsettled her and she was keen to explore it in drama. Following the deaths of Sarah Everard and Zara Aleena, both murdered by men as they walked the streets close to their homes, Rice found a deeper and more current meaning to the tale.

By the close, the two stories have come together and we learn that just as Lucky is unsafe in Blue Beard’s lair, so too any woman can be at risk just by walking home alone. In the end, we understand why the nuns are fearful, f***ked and furious – and the production pays homage to all murdered women.

It is a powerful conclusion which reminds us why so many fairy tales still have resonance today, alongside the magic and the fantasy, there is often a reminder that people can be brutal and cruel. Rice’s Blue Beard is a great example of how theatre can explore and develop ideas, creating entertainment which is also deeply thought-provoking.

A co-production between Wise Children, Birmingham Rep, Home Manchester, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and York Theatre Royal, the show continues at Birmingham Rep until 20 April. See here for more information and tickets.

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283084 - 2024-04-11 10:06:14

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