Blue Beard | Battersea Arts Centre, London | Review

Blue Beard

Battersea Arts Centre

Bluebeard is a French folktale which tells the story of a wealthy man in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of the present one to avoid the fate of her predecessors. The notoriety of the tale is such that the word Bluebeard has the definition of “a man who marries and kills one wife after another”. The verb blue-bearding has even appeared as a way to describe the crime of either killing a series of women, or seducing and abandoning a series of women.

Blue Beard is the latest work from Wise Children, the theatre company created and led by award-winning director Emma Rice. Wise Children’s previous work includes the astonishingly good Wuthering Heights and Malory Towers. Rice is also known for leading Cornwall’s beloved and much missed Kneehigh Theatre Company, where shows included the stunning productions of Brief Encounter and Rebecca. In 2022, Sky Arts named her amongst Britain’s 50 most influential artists of the last 50 years, and The Times put her production of Tristan & Yseult on its list of the 25 best theatre productions of the 21st century.

So, is it any good? The first act is like having the greatest and weirdest dream of all time. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought someone had spiked my pre-show drink with a large dose of LSD and I was hallucinating the whole thing, experiencing the best ‘trip’ known to mankind. There are so many wonderful ideas here, you would have to buy a ticket to every show in the West End to even halve the number of sensory delights on offer at the exquisite Battersea Arts Centre. The second act is similarly brilliant with an unexpected and shockingly dark twist which I doubt any of the audience saw coming until the very last moment.

The cast are outstanding with Katy Owen once again proving she is truly one of the funniest actors in the country. They are also multi-talented with most of the cast additionally playing a variety of instruments including Mirabelle Gremaud on both the harp and the double bass. Blue Beard himself is majestically played by Tristan Sturrock, complete with a deep red, 3 piece suit which gives him an air of a matinee idol. Elsewhere, Stephanie Hockley steals every scene she appears in whilst also playing the piano and acting as Musical Director for the company. The rest of the cast are equally superb however I have exhausted my repertoire of superlatives.

The whole show is beautifully underscored with original music by Stu Barker and there are moments of multi-media (including the horrific finale), magic, commedia dell’arte, circus, contortionism, ballet and knife throwing all exquisitely framed by Vicki Mortimer’s carnivalesque set.

I could go on however suffice it to say this is one of the most entertaining, exciting, funny and unique pieces of theatre ever to grace a British stage with influences that include Salvador Dali, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, David Byrne, Ang Lee, Ken Russell and Dennis Potter.

Stunning, absolutely stunning. The best thing I’ve seen at the theatre since Rice’s production of Wuthering Heights.

6 stars!!

Reviewer: Patric Kearns