Review: Blue Beard

Jessica Harris enjoys a thoughtful Birmingham Rep production.

Part fairground show, part fairytale, this production of Blue Beard is a captivating affair, full of wit and sparkle. But beneath the glittering surface is a dark and poignant thread that comes to the fore in the second act.

Opening in the convent of the Three Fs (Fearful, F….d and Furious!) where the nuns are angry at the treatment of women at the hands of men, the wonderful character of the Mother Superior, played by Katy Owen, emerges as the narrator. Cynical and subversive, she comments on events as they unfold.

Loving and trusting of men – they have had an example of the best in their husband and father – a mother and her two daughters encounter the showman Blue Beard, played with full malevolence by Tristan Sturrock. One of the daughters, Lucky, played by Robyn Sinclair, falls for his charms, even though his true mastery lies in spotting and exploiting weakness.

In Emma Rice’s retelling of this French folk tale, actors move seamlessly from performer to musician to dancer, and they do so brilliantly, as much at ease with picking up a guitar, plucking a harp or playing the piano, as they are at ribbon routines from rhythmic gymnastics. All aspects of the production feel beautifully choreographed, from the performers’ movements on stage, to the smooth wheeling in and out of props, to the impressive lighting effects.

The shift in style and tone as the play concludes is brilliantly conceived. Reminding us of recent headline murders of women walking home, video footage exposes the fear that women doing the same experience on a daily basis. There can scarcely be a woman in the audience who has not known this feeling.

The production falls on the right side of condemnation of male violence. Whilst Blue Beard is a thoroughly menacing character, a secondary storyline centres on a brother who cares deeply for his sister. The contrast between their relationship and that of the evil Blue Beard and the vulnerable Lucky could not be greater. Not all men are evil.

Ultimately, the message of Blue Beard the folk tale is subverted. It is not up to women to conform to codes of conduct that oppress them. The memory of those women who have died on the streets will be walked home. Enough is enough. To convey this in a production that is mesmerising, humorous and accessible is quite some feat.

The production was written and directed by Emma Rice. Music was composed by Stu Barker, set and costumes were designed by Vicki Mortimer and lighting design was by Malcolm Rippeth.

Blue Beard is at the Rep until 20th April. For further information visit

Pics: Steve Tanner