Blue Beard

Emma Rice
Wise Children
HOME Manchester

Listing details and ticket info...

Tristan Sturrock as Blue Beard Credit: Steve Tanner
Stephanie Hockley as Trouble, Patrycja Kujawska as Treasure and Robyn Sinclair as Lucky Credit: Steve Tanner
Mirabelle Gremaud and Tristan Sturrock as Blue Beard Credit: Steve Tanner
Stephanie Hockley Credit: Steve Tanner
Stephanie Hockley as Trouble, Patrycja Kujawska as Treasure and Robyn Sinclair as Lucky Credit: Steve Tanner
Robyn Sinclair as Lucky Credit: Steve Tanner

There are a number of sources for this traditional tale of a powerful man who murders his wives, the most famous from Charles Perrault in his Histoires ou contes du temps passé of 1697. Wise Children, as may be expected, has taken a very different approach that is recognisable as an Emma Rice production, but with a shocking ending that jumps into a different and quite unexpected style.

The play begins in the Convent of the Three Fs ("Fearful, Fucked and Furious"—also the title of a song) led by Katy Owen as Mother Superior, sporting a blue beard. Into this all-female, supportive environment wanders a young man (Adam Mirsky), who is violently restrained despite his cardboard sign with "help" scrawled on it. Finally, they release him, and Mother Superior starts to tell the story of her blue beard.

Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock) is a charismatic stage magician who performs traditional tricks such as throwing knives at his female assistant (Mirabelle Gremaud) and sawing a lady in half, the latter using a member of the audience—and yes, they do the full trick on stage. This time, his willing assistant is Lucky (Robyn Sinclair), here with her sister Trouble (Stephanie Hockley) and mother Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska). Lucky falls under Blue Beard's spell and, when he proposes to her, despite the protests of her mother and sister, she accepts.

After they are married, he has to go away to work and gives his new wife the keys to explore all the rooms in their mansion home—except for one. There is one key which she must never use. Well, we all know where that is going don't we? The horror she and her mother and sister discover in that room doesn't persuade her to leave, but when he returns, he knows she has been in there and so she has to join his previous wives, but she gives three rings on the phone (with a dialling sound from before digital exchanges, which would mean nothing to the school parties that made up most of this matinée audience) and Trouble and Treasure set out to rescue her (not her brothers as in some versions—this is a story of women fighting back against abuse).

Intermingled in this tale, the young man is allowed to tell his own story of his big sister (Gremaud again), who dressed all in black, sometimes got depressed and liked to be alone but loved singing in a band. Until one day, when he went to see her band and offered to walk her home, but she refused.

These two stories collide in an ending that breaks free of the usual Wise Children style into uncomfortable realism as Owen takes off her Mother Superior outfit and we learn why she is there in the group, refusing to go home to her family. It's a heartbreaking finale from Mirsky and especially Owen that left the audience in a stunned silence.

The cast, many of them Kneehigh and Wise Children veterans, are all terrific and extremely versatile, some playing instruments as well as singing Stu Barker's distinctive music, with Barker himself also playing live, billed in the online programme as "Sister Susie of the Dulcimer". Simon Baker's sound design is crystal clear.

This is another great Wise Children production, but one that ends by telling a serious message in a more direct way than usual. In the programme, Rice, referring to this, wonders, "perhaps Wise Children is growing up." In many ways I hope not, but for this production, this approach certainly works to ram home an important message.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

*Some links, including Amazon,,, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?