REVIEW: Blue Beard at York Theatre Royal


Cara Doherty (she/her) reviews Emma Rice’s new adaptation of the haunting fairytale

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Image by Steve Tanner

By Cara Doherty

Emma Rice – actor, director, writer, visionary – had always managed to avoid the tale of Blue Beard in spite of a prolific catalogue of fairytale-inspired plays behind her. Known as a bloody tale, in her own words she didn’t want to “add to the number of dead women that are scattered throughout our literature and media”, but in recent years she feels she no longer has a choice. Much like Lucky (Robyn Sinclair), Rice found herself lured into Blue Beard’s castle – but with the intention of burning it down from the inside.

The play opens with the wonderfully ridiculous Mother Superior (Katy Owen) welcoming the audience to the convent of the three F’s – the Fearful, Fucked and Furious – behind the disguise of a blue beard, dark glasses and sarcastic wit. For the benefit of mysterious traveller Lost Brother (Adam Mirsky), Mother Superior recounts the tale of Blue Beard (Tristan Sturrock), or more accurately the women behind his demise.

In Mother Superior’s retelling, we meet three women wracked with grief following the loss of the family patriarch. While the show moves at points with lightning speed, we dwell gently on the individuality of grief: recently widowed Treasure (Patrycja Kujawska) finds comfort by donning her late husband’s blazer and pipe, while her daughters Lucky and Trouble (Stephanie Hockley) look outwards, asking the world around them to provide an alternative to the darkness their family has found a recent home in. And a new world there is in the form of the enigmatic magician Blue Beard, who takes the vulnerable family in with his charm and promises. A whirlwind romance ensues, and despite the reservations of her family, Lucky marries Blue Beard, hopeful of her happily ever after.

It’s impossible to do this show justice in print – how does one describe an all-singing, all-dancing carnival complete with magic tricks, gymnastics, twirling ribbons, pointe work, light-shows, actor-musicianship and more? I’m still unsure how I managed to stay focused on the threads of plot and how they intertwined amidst farcical distractions and purposeful smokeshows, and how these techniques never distracted from the heartfelt celebration of female friendship and joy that underscores the first act. Blue Beard maintains a looming presence throughout, and the Lost Brother’s own snippets of storytelling that introduce the Lost Sister (Mirabelle Gremaud) hangs a mental question mark in the air not quite overshadowed by the dazzling glitter ball set-piece. Yet, overall, it's impossible not to be left breathless and shining from the slick first act.

But with the second rise of the curtain, the darkness humming in the background throughout the hedonistic first half quickly reaches its fever pitch. In keeping with the original tale, Lucky breaks her only promise to Blue Beard – not to enter the only locked room in their beautiful mansion – and finds the bodies of his previous wives, drained of light and life. In an ensuing bloody battle brought to life through slow-motion, almost cinematic movement, Lucky and her family kill Blue Beard and end his reign of terror once and for all.

Rice doesn’t allow a moment for victory. Instead, fairytale meets harsh reality as the Lost Sister’s story is played out in the form of CCTV footage showing what is meant to be just a simple walk home. This is what I mean by Rice no longer having a choice: in the wake of the tragic murders of Zara Aleena, Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and thousands more, these stories need to be voiced and fought for.

“Let me walk you home”, asks Lost Brother in the denouement. He knows that he can’t offer the answer that we want – that we can do so alone. But here, now, as we step out of the insularity of the theatre into a cold, dark Yorkshire evening – and as women across the world take their lives into their hands by placing their feet on the pavement – we make a vow. In vibrant life, in death and in our memories: women will not walk alone.

Editor’s Note: This performance was seen on 29 February at York Theatre Royal. Blue Beard continues until 9 March 2024, after which it embarks on a national tour. Tickets can be purchased here: