Director: Lee Lyford

Gallivant brings Bluebeard to the Ustinov following dates in 2013 starting out at Bristol Old Vic Studio as part of the Bristol Old Vic Ferment programme, concluding with a run at The Soho Theatre Upstairs, London.

Programme notes suggest that this is a piece that will question us and the implied complicity of women in the sexual desires of Bluebeard. In the fairy tale he is less debonair than here – writer Hattie Naylor depicts a version showing us a smart, attractive man with darker desires.  Bluebeard’s suggestion that the women he picks up are all “easy,” that they are desperate and needy for his “granite” and subsequent sexual violence and domination is the only discussion. Here their mortality is dependent on whether they question him about his past, if they do then he moves onto his next conquest.

The stereotypical women in this story, the young innocent girl he teases, the divorcee desperate for sex and the girl who wins his heart are all white women with small breasts and come from associated towns that reinforce our collective thoughts of women out clubbing from these areas.  This device brings humour into the piece and we do laugh at the descriptions, whether it is a challenge I am unsure.

The bare set and strip lighting reflects the barren, sterile disconnection that Bluebeard has with sex. The lack of colour and clinical surrounding ensures that romance is not an option. The relish with which his tale is retold in his arrogant joy is the key to the success of this piece.

Paul Mundell summons an intense and gripping performance as Bluebeard, he ticks all the boxes as a potential good catch – the stylised delivery brings a poetry to his desires and his insistence that the women are always complicit and desperate for his brutal, violent sex – it is hard to imagine how this script and production could work without the strength of Mundell’s creation.

It is a good production, it may surprise some people but I am unsure it extends any discussion as to why we might be titillated by violent porn, or “mommy porn” as 50 Shades of Grey is here described – it seems somehow to cover the same ground without conclusion or sounding like a new voice.

 ***

Petra Schofield