Hattie Naylor
Soho Theatre

Paul Rundell as Bluebeard Credit: Paul Blakemore

Sometimes we go to a performance looking to be unsettled. We do so to ask ourselves larger questions, to shake ourselves out of privileged complacency. But what happens when theatre that’s meant to sting is essentially hollow?

Last night I spent a long hour watching Hattie Naylor’s Bluebeard, an extended monologue that brings one of the darkest folktale villains to life.

A serial killer targeting his own wives, Bluebeard appears here as a wolf in twenty-first century clothing, giving us the salacious details of how he seduces then rapes and tortures three women.

Naylor’s Bluebeard ventures into some dangerous territory, which, in itself, isn’t a bad thing. Theatre that induces squirming is usually tapping into something vital.

The way Naylor handles her subject matter, though, lacks sophistication and errs on the side of pop psychology, making this interrogation of a torturer’s inner workings superficial.

When a lover inevitably starts asking about Bluebeard's childhood, his favourite foods and if mum and dad were meanies, he snaps. You see, Bluebeard doesn’t get off on feelings beyond other people's physical pain, a reality he’s more than happy to demonstrate to his female companions.

In fact, Bluebeard claims that women are complicit in their own undoing, citing how his sexually hungry victims from Hartlepool and Burnley are ultimately seeking out an abuser.

The problem here is Bluebeard’s one-dimensionality—Naylor’s monologue adheres to a single, slithery note. While often chilling, Paul Mundell’s performance is saddled by a script and direction (Lee Lyford) that fails to offer a glimpse of Bluebeard’s alter ego. Barring his costume, we’re never introduced to Bluebeard the charmer, a stealth swinger who might feasibly seduce unsavvy ladies from the provinces. Encountering this guy would be even more disturbing.

So what’s the take away? Does Bluebeard do the essential work of prompting spectators to assess their own assumptions about sexual violence, small town victims and female ‘promiscuity’ (a trait that, in men, is a celebrated credit to their stud-dom)? Try as it might, this script lacks the nuance and subtlety to get there.

Reviewer: Melissa Poll

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