Home » London Theatre Reviews » Blue Beard by Emma Rice at Battersea Arts Centre | Review

Blue Beard by Emma Rice at Battersea Arts Centre | Review

‘Blue Beard’ is a truly ghastly 17th-century fairytale about a seductive nobleman who turns out to be a mass murderer. It is a plot that has inspired countless female writers, from Charlotte Brontë to Agatha Christie. In this new version writer-director, Emma Rice has reshaped ‘Blue Beard’ with the aim of creating a “fearless reimagining of the classic tale”, a parable for our times about violence against women and girls by boys and men, some of whom – as we have seen – wear blue uniforms rather than blue beards.

Blue Beard at Battersea Arts Centre. Photo credit Steve Tanner.
Blue Beard at Battersea Arts Centre. Photo credit Steve Tanner.

It’s a laudable ambition but the arrow falls far from the mark.

As is often the case with revisionist takes on classic stories, there is a not entirely effective framing device so that Blue Beard is presented almost as a play within a play. There are magic tricks, dancing and beautifully performed songs with clever and thoughtful lyrics – all the ingredients of a pantomime albeit one peppered with adult-friendly expletives, and a few jokes that would sit better in one of Jim Davidson’s oeuvre and some stylised violence. It’s spectacular and colourful until the real world breaks through in an unexpected way in a genuinely shocking scene that, as it should be, is uncomfortable to watch.

Blue Beard (a terrifying Tristan Sturrock) is a magician, pinning one woman with a sword and sawing her in half, while throwing knives at another – scenes that, however familiar from traditional magic shows, cleverly remind us that certain forms of violence against women have always been regarded as entertainment. A young woman named ‘Lucky’ (Robyn Sinclair, sublime) sees one of Blue Beard’s shows with her feisty sister ‘Trouble’ (Stephanie Hockley) and their mother ‘Treasure’ (Patrycja Kujawska). She falls in love and, along with the audience, her family wonder what will happen when love and luck run out … and she enters Blue Beard’s bloody chamber. In the original, Blue Beard’s final wife is rescued by her brothers but of course that is not the case in this version. As well as the predictable endgame there are some unfortunate details. A woman about to be murdered by her husband is – without explanation – dressed as a clown, appearing more feckless than fearless in what seems to be a blatant instance of victim-shaming. And one of the explanations presented as to how to curb the tsunami of gendered violence is that male violence against women can best be addressed by female violence against men. And at the end, the rage and self-examination that should be prompted by the production and the tearful curtain call are immediately effaced by exit music that is not only jarringly wrong but wholly unnecessary.

3 Star Review

Review by Louis Mazzini

Blue Beard the Magician meets his match when his young bride discovers his murderous secret. She summons all her rage, all her smarts and all her sisters to bring the curtain down on his tyrannous reign.

Blue Beard is at Battersea Arts Centre until 18 May 2025 (www.bac.org.uk)

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