Edinburgh Fringe 2010
As you enter the space, six young and ethereal women gaze out, faces white and pasty, eyes darkened by smeared mascara and hollow fatigue. So far, so Edinburgh Fringe. But there’s an intelligence and wit here that shows a company that’s willing to take a chance and develop something new.
The story of Bluebeard is familiar enough, and so group Swink are able to infuse their take with some playful mask work and puppetry. Sock puppets and other items of clothing are given characters that narrate and commentate on the ongoing events. Each item of clothing is given their own characteristic (and, indeed, accent), and one, a bra, is given to moments of panicked nervousness, so that she could be accused of continually creating a (forgive us) a storm in a DD cup.
It’s that sort of humour, mixed in with elements of quiet terror, that give us the identity of this piece – Swink are a group that’s confident enough to use absolute silence, devoid of any tricksy music or sound effects in order to heighten the tension.
It’s true that sometimes the energy (and as a result, the diction) pitch a little low, but there is something very good here, and with room to breathe, there’s the chance of something quite beautiful: a shadow puppet sequence showing a party and its immediate silent aftermath when the hostess is left alone seems to be only a portion of what it has the potential to be, and while it is true that the stylised movement sequences never unsettle the telling of the narrative, we could have coped with seing certain ideas exploited further. Half a hour is quite genuinely not enough.
Blue Beard himself is a delicious creation: towering, snarling and sneering, huge Gainsbourg-caricature type hands scraping by his sides. It’s this sort of thing – women as grotesque puppets, the space as half waking dream, half sleeping nightmare – that could have been developed further in the piece, and feels genuinely original.
It used to be the case that the story of Bluebeard was a cautionary tale that could be used to keep your little woman in her place. In these young woman’s hands, however, it becomes almost a feminist agenda, and certainly a story of empowerment as the six actresses (it is significant, although very likely accidental, that neither Blue Beard, nor any other character is played by a male) throw off the oppression of their murderous husband.
Vibrantly funny, creepily sinister and subtly sensual, this is a tale for grown-up children and grown-ups who can still be childish