Latest Review – Blue Beard [HOME, Manchester]


HOME, Manchester

Until Saturday 24th February 2024


Following the successes of Wise Children, The Flying Lovers, and Wuthering Heights, to name just a few, Emma Rice and Wise Children now return with their latest theatrical offering, Blue Beard, a dark and imaginative revenge tale inspired by the classic French folktale.

The tale of the murderous nobleman is one that has been adapted, referenced and reimagined countless times across a variety of different mediums over the centuries – Angela Carter’s short story The Bloody Chamber (1979) and Béla Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (1918) being just two notable examples – but, in the hands of Rice and Wise Children, the tale has been transformed into something fresh and hugely relevant, filled with all the signature traits and theatrical flourishes we have come to expect from Rice’s productions.

If the original tale of the wealthy and charming Bluebeard killing off his numerous wives glamourised the violence and seductive elements of the story, then Rice’s production most definitely strips away that romance and glamour to uncover the dark realities at the core.

The show employs a non-linear structure with multiple narratives that cleverly interweave and blur the lines of fantasy and reality, with the actors seamlessly flitting between the two.

The production opens with a young man wandering into the ‘Convent of the Three Fs’ (Fearful, F*cked & Furious) in search of help finding his missing sister from the eccentric Kill Bill-esque sisters within. Inside, he is met by the blue-bearded Mother Superior who insists he tell her his story in exchange for one of her own. 

As the man talks of his missing sister, the Mother Superior then narrates a dark, magic-realist tale of Lucky, her sister Trouble and their recently widowed mother, who soon find themselves ensnared by a dazzling and dangerous magician who lives in a mysterious mansion housing a sinister locked chamber that must never be opened.

We spend the show wondering what the link between the different stories could possibly be, but as the fantastical tale of Blue Beard comes to a close, a projector screen then descends to the stage and reveals all in gut-punching fashion.

What unfolds is a devastating look at domestic violence, coercion, and the realisation that seemingly ordinary men can be capable of the most unforgivable crimes. “I should be able to walk home alone” one character cries to the stunned silence of the audience. A hugely powerful finale to a production largely filled with music, magic and comedy.

True to form, a strong cast of actor musicians drive the story and perform the various songs and underscoring featured throughout the piece. There’s a surreal, cabaret-style feel to the production, as we’ve come to expect from Rice’s shows, with eccentric comedic elements employed to help bring contrast and deliver greater impact when the darker truths are revealed.

Like most Wise Children productions, and Kneehigh before, there’s a sort of variety show feel to Blue Beard‘s construction, but not all the segments come together as smoothly as they need to here. The music is excellent, as are the performances, and the central message is of course hugely important, but some of the jokes can feel overly forced and the unnecessary bursts of bad language tend to fall flat.

Blue Beard may not be Wise Children at their finest but it proves an intriguing take on the ancient tale and an important production nonetheless.

Running Time: 2 hours (approx.), including one 15-minute interval.

Final Performance at HOME, Manchester: Saturday 24th February 2024

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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