Review: La Barbe-Bleue, Vault Festival 2015

La Barbe-Bleue, one third of Boireannach’s ‘Into the Mire’ season took place in The Pit as part of the Vault Festival in Waterloo. This devised piece, inspired by the French folklore tale of Bluebeard, is an hour of horror-filled, dark fantasy theatre performed in what increasingly feels like a dungeon under the streets of Waterloo. The damp, dark room filled with flickering candlelight, strewn dresses and a large wooden door leaves no illusion that what is about to be performed is no romantic fairy tale.

A lot of the piece’s strength comes from its visuals. The opening movement sequence is mesmerising, from the beautiful costume to the committed, repetitive and sinuous choreography. Our title man, who is performed simply by a blue light, is an intimidating force. Whenever ‘Bluebeard’ is in the room the actors look up to him, and his light completely bathes them in possessive blue. The centre prop piece, a large wooden door, is a clever move to give the impression of size and a multitude of rooms to the small space. Director Annie McKenzie makes some strong decisions here with lasting effect.

The sections of recorded sound are slightly confusing, and I fear that I missed the connection the play had to songs by Fleetwood Mac and Florence and the Machine, which are references I couldn’t ignore. Yet, on the other hand, the a capella singing is very effective, and references to songs with the characters’ names in are a nice touch. There is a strong sense of ritual here, which is very effective.

The acting from the all-female cast is excellent and very complementary to one another. A variety of clear, distinctive voices and well thought-out physical characterisations make for an interesting selection, despite the majority of them playing the similar character of Bluebeard’s wife or lover. Themes of obsession and passion ring through loud and clear in the broken text, and although the script sometimes lacks layers – such as multiple sections that appear purely descriptive about sex, albeit decadently so – it makes the horror of the closing scenes all the more hard-hitting. From the loud and writhing characters of Eira (Anna Clarke) and Tuwa (Kate Hunter), to the more subtle, grounding housekeeper Carolina (Katrina Allen), they all play an equal part in the horror house ensemble.

The overarching sense of the piece is one of being trapped in a stranger’s nightmare, which is still giving me chills. Retribution comes to Bluebeard, satisfyingly at the hands of one you would not at surface value expect; yet you feel the ghosts of this place will not be at peace. I was grateful to make my escape, luckily in one piece, after what I had seen; however, exiting via the wooden door and stepping over a tenderly-placed dress of one Bluebeard’s deceased lovers is unsettling to say the least!

La Barbe-Bleue played at the Vault Festival 2015. For more information, see the Vault Festival website.