Sunday, 10 November 2013

Theatre review: Bluebeard

Are there a lot more monologues around this year or am I just catching them all? The latest person to be giving an audience his side of the story is a version of the original fairytale serial killer, Bluebeard. In Hattie Naylor's play, Jim (Paul Mundell) is a sharp-suited charmer whose drawling way of speaking and shark-like grin mark him out as a bit creepy from the off, but as he goes on to explain this is never a drawback when trying to seduce women. Far from it, he believes that the women he ends up with aren't just drawn to the bad boy, they're actively attracted to the possibility of physical violence and genuine danger. So he makes sure they're not disappointed as he tells us about some of the women he's known. His seductions are a slow tease, but when it's finally time for sex it involves bondage, submission and pain. He occasionally even lets them live afterwards.

The set is a simple affair, with an old-fashioned leather armchair for Bluebeard and fluorescent lights hanging around him, possibly representing the lives he snuffs out; although this is where he bases himself for his monologue, director Lee Lyford also has Mundell get up to move creepily around the stage, including a disconcerting sequence of him dancing to Northern Soul in the nightclub he's set up partly to help find himself victims.

Bluebeard is interesting and sometimes achieves the disturbing effect it's aiming for, although it never feels like essential viewing - there's not much that seems new or unique about it. The combination of Mundell's Northern Irish accent and the character's tendency to use euphemisms about body parts had me confused at times - when he said he moved his fingers "down to her West" I thought he'd got a very confused sense of direction, until I realised the word was "waist."

What I found most interesting about the piece was the impression that Naylor was using it to respond in part to Fifty Shades of Grey and the controversy over its portrayal of women with a liking for BDSM. Bluebeard's confidence that his victims are complicit in their fates seems a natural if extreme progression of certain anti-feminist ideas. On a narrative level I also liked the parallel with the original Bluebeard demanding a total lack of curiosity from his wives, as this modern version only truly turns on his conquests if they ask about his past. A good, sinister little piece, but not a great one.

Bluebeard by Hattie Naylor is booking until the 1st of December at Soho Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.


  1. Wait, is this a one-man show that *isn't* about a grieving father? Well that's a rarity at the moment!

    1. Well, by definition I guess he must have caused a few fathers to grieve, but he didn't seem too fussed about that.