Georgette McCready enjoys the world premiere of fable with a real-life message at its heart
How lucky we are in Bath to have so many ‘you saw it here first!’ opportunities. Audiences at the Theatre Royal Bath are the first to enjoy the world premiere of Blue Beard, an exciting production by theatre director and writer Emma Rice and her touring company Wise Children, which has its home in Frome.
Fans of the late, great writer Angela Carter (author of Wise Children, Nights at the Circus, The Bloody Chamber etc), who lived in Bath in the 1970s, will love what Rice and her company have done with the ancient, dark fairy tale about Blue Beard, his murdered wives and his new bride. This show, like a Carter story, combines all the sparkling elements of fantasy, magic and celebration, with feminism. And at its heart, there is the message, as relevant today as it was when the stories of Blue Beard were told around the fireside of our ancestors, about violence done to women.
The first half of Blue Beard sees narrator the Mother Superior (Kate Owen) with the nuns from the Convent of the three Fs, unfold the tale. This is where live theatre beats the screen of television or cinema hands down. The fourth wall between performers and us, the audience, is broken down as they talk to us directly.
We are asked to applaud and take part in the magic show-within-a-show by Blue Beard, played with charisma and suppressed control by Tristan Sturrock. We get to know the widow and two daughters (Patrycja Kujawska, Stephanie Hockley and Robyn Sinclair) as they mourn the death of a loving husband and father, known as The Good Man. The music carries us along with its easy charm.
It resonated with so many of us as the anxious father taught his girls to phone to let him know they’d got home safely. No need to pick up the phone, just to hear it ring three times is enough for a parent to know a daughter is safe. It is a scenario which has been acted out in millions of families for generations.
We also recognise ourselves in the three women who let their hair down after the wedding of one of the sisters, Lucky, to Blue Beard. While Blue Beard is away, they enjoy the run of his fabulous home, his fridge, his drinks cabinet and a wardrobe full of party clothes. But we also know, even in the midst of celebration, that something is not right about Lucky’s magician husband.
We come to care about the Lost Brother (Adam Mirsky) and his musician sister (Mirabelle Gremaud), the Lost Sister who represents all those women who didn’t make it home safely. Those women we read about in the news every single day – the women preyed on by strangers, the women killed by their own husbands.
The second half of the show gets much, much darker as Lucky discovers Blue Beard’s murderous secret. But it also shows the combined strength of the avenging women, moving as one Fury to fight for revenge. In the final scenes we realise why we needed the lightness and joy earlier, so we could face these harrowing truths.
Emma Rice has said that she wanted to tell a story for all the women who never made it home. And while she wrote the play, the company developed the work themselves, always sensitive to the issues it raises. As Rice says, “What has emerged feels palpably raw, relevant and powerful. The room laughs, sings and dances as always – but there are also tears . . . Tears that need to be shed.”
Blue Beard is a visual delight, from the lighting and the shifting scenes to the music and the dancing. The cast and production team run a tightly choreographed operation, with some impressive multi-tasking.
Blue Beard is at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 10 February. Tickets are selling fast, but grab one if you can! Visit: https://www.theatreroyal.org.uk.
The tour goes on to Manchester, York, Edinburgh, Birmingham and ends at Battersea Arts Centre in May.