What do you get when you mix a gothic fairy story, catchy songs and sharp wit? The Brides of Bluebeard is the culmination of a talented team’s clever retelling of the classic French fairy-tale. The Bear (voiced by director Iain Johnstone), is the classic, creepy Bluebeard – a serial killer of wives, who takes in his latest victim, the Journalist (Jessica Sedler) as his bride. She’s a modern woman who discovers her predecessors in gruesome fashion. The Bear is depicted as a frightening, ambiguous horror, an ominous patriarchal shadow, used to controlling his victims and punishing them violently for their disobedience. Despite the potential darkness of this classic tale, the Dolls add levity, intelligence and style to the story, so that it cannot fail to amuse and delight.
With a mix of mash ups of pop classics and original songs, the Ruby Dolls deliver a night of pure entertainment. The Dolls consist of Rebecca Shanks, Tara Siddall, Susanna Fiore and Jessica Sedler, four accomplished performers. We get to know each of the girls, the brides and the Bear, in the capable hands of these four fiery songstresses – they are each so charming, with strong personalities and a sharp sense of humour. They all shine alone and in harmony, the jovial chemistry between them creating a slick and enjoyable production. They are accompanied by Benjamin Cox on piano, whose musical direction has helped create an impeccable show.
It’s self-aware, self-referential and never afraid to poke a little fun at its own silliness. It makes for a very endearing retelling of a dark and gruesome story. A few of the meta-discussions (in which the Dolls address each other and the audience directly), work better than others, but it is all done with a light touch – we are never subjected to preaching or politicising, despite the proudly feminist vibe of the show.
The arrangement of ‘Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name’ is another particular standout – almost unrecognisable, the Dolls deliver their rendition with rebellious energy. All of the arrangements of the hit songs are excellent, and the originals don’t disappoint. Particular highlights amongst the original songs include ‘Mad About the Bear’ and ‘The Edible Wife’, both of which are flawlessly delivered. They are perfect examples of where the most gruesome and unpleasant aspects of the story have been given new life, with sarcasm, intelligence and humour. Though Mad About the Bear, in particular, elucidates just how menacing this character is, the audience cannot help but smile at the irony of this nameless terror we all recognise.
This is the way feminist themes should be explored: it’s never preachy, it never even indicates an agenda, and yet succeeds in constructing four unique female characters, one of whom fights back to break the cycle of destruction at the hands of the Bear. It’s relatable, accessible and multifaceted. The entire team are to be congratulated on achieving such a balance.
From the first, The Brides of Bluebeard is tongue-in-cheek, and playful, mixing all the elements of a gory, gothic fairy story, cabaret, and great comedy. They are charming, funny and talented. It all wraps together in a supremely fun package, not a single dull moment in this tightly written and performed show.
The Ruby Dolls are touring with this production of The Brides of Bluebeard and I encourage one and all to go along and support this show.
Review by Christina Calgaro
The Brides of Bluebeard
Presented by The Ruby Dolls
The Bear is getting married. Again. And all of his previous wives have a habit of dying mysteriously… This is the centuries old folk tale Bluebeard re-wired for 2016. It’s about control, power and female transgression. With jokes. And beautiful original music in a mix of genres, alongside unique arrangements of songs by Nick Cave, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse and Rage Against the Machine, all sung in close part harmony. Four women are here to tell you a disturbingly familiar story. Are you sitting comfortably?
The Brides Of Bluebeard is written by critically acclaimed cabaret ensemble The Ruby Dolls, with original music and arrangements composed by the company. Funded by Arts Council England.
The Ruby Dolls are: Jessica Sedler, Susanna Fiore, Rebecca Shanks and Tara Siddall – four women who came together to create the now acclaimed, collaborative cabaret ensemble The Ruby Dolls. Directed by Iain Johnstone (Told By An Idiot, National Theatre of Scotland) with Musical Direction by Benjamin Cox (Heritage Opera, West End.)