There’s something of a fad at the Soho Theatre Upstairs for producing bitesize plays: hour long shows, usually monologues or duologues, which provide a concentrated perspective on the world. That’s not to say it’s becoming old hat; it takes excellent writing and an engaging performance for plays in this form to hold your attention. And Bluebeard has that.
Bluebeard “had a chamber didn’t he, where he tortured all his wives to death”, the narrator’s aunt-in-law-to-be tells the protagonist (who has adopted the name), as she recognises his type: a sexual deviant with a taste for violence. It’s a bit of an archaic analogy for him, but does consider that presenting the domination of women in sex, such as in pornography or the flavour of the month, Fifty Shades of Grey, sets feminism back a bit. And according to Bluebeard, we’re to blame. Because consuming these images and fictions is a form of complicity.
That’s the social resonance of the play. The argument I find much more compelling and less warm is Bluebeard’s claim that man’s innate nature embraces such animalistic behaviour as liberating. It releases Bluebeard from the unnatural moral conditioning ingrained in society. Usually, plays in this monologue form offer little more than a glimpse into an individual. Hattie Naylor’s excellent play addresses the audience with food for thought.
Aside from a couple of odd moments which break up the monologue when the audience is quite happily entranced by Bluebeard’s story (a frantic piece of choreography, Bluebeard’s drawn out final breath), Lee Lyford’s direction is simply but effectively slick. Bluebeard stalks about Hayley Grindle’s black set, weaving between white lights which represent the women coming and going in his life, like a predator.
Indeed, there’s something vampiric about Paul Mundell’s performance; there’s something both poisonous and enigmatic about his smile, he moves slowly and deliberately, and purrs his lines in his drawling voice.
Occassionally, Naylor runs away with the erotic descriptions; it’s not that they’re in-yer-face, but they’re very repetitive. But other than this thin narrative line, she has created a compelling character who inventively looks inside us instead of the other way round. And with the charisma of Paul Mundell’s performance, you can’t help but let him in.
Bluebeard plays at the Soho Theatre until 17 Nov. For more information and tickets, see The Soho Theatre website.