Wednesday 23 October 2019

Bluebeard's Castle at Gaiety Theatre - Bleak vision of romance sends shivers down the spine

  • Bluebeard's Castle Gaiety Theatre, Dublin run concluded

Tantalising: Joshua Bloom as Bluebeard and Paula Murrihy as Judith
Tantalising: Joshua Bloom as Bluebeard and Paula Murrihy as Judith

Katy Hayes

The story of Bluebeard is one of the most grisly of European folk-tales; it tells of a serial wife-killer and his unsuspecting latest bride who discovers his secret room of female corpses.

This opera version of the story by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, with a libretto by Béla Balázs, was premièred in 1918. This is its first fully-mounted Irish production.

Bluebeard and Judith arrive home to his castle, she having just jilted her fiancé to elope with him. Judith is drawn to his dark side, but the first thing she wants to do is open all the doors in the castle to let in the light.

INO's production features the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, conducted by André de Ridder and directed by Enda Walsh. It starts with a young boy on the stage fixing up a speaker and microphone to deliver the prologue (sometimes omitted). Attention is drawn to the artificial nature of the narrative. Walsh's opera work always insists on the primacy of story. The tale unfolds with a tantalising inevitability, as Judith wants to look in all the rooms. There are seven in all: a torture chamber, a room full of weapons, a vision of Bluebeard's kingdom. Some contain a certain kind of splendour: gold, a garden, a lake of tears.

Jamie Vartan's set is dominated by a giant concrete wall, surrounded by rubble. It opens to reveal a steep staircase by which Bluebeard and Judith enter, nicely using the height of the Gaiety stage. It closes to function as a screen for Jack Phelan's expressionistic video design for the different rooms. Adam Silverman's inventive high-contrast lighting is an intrinsic element in this tale of darkness and light.

Mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy presents Judith as a sensual woman. Her shiny yellow dress and glorious voice establish her cocky confidence. Thus, her final humiliation is all the more profound.

Joshua Bloom's strong bass voice presents Bluebeard as an attractive, civilised prospect. But as the 70 minutes progress, his tuxedo jacket discarded, he becomes a dishevelled, primal man. Bartók's splendid music tilts the energy in Bluebeard's direction more and more as his innocence wanes.

When Judith opens the seventh door, the three bedraggled wives emerge, alive. The wall lifts and the final coup de théâtre represents a terrifying fecundity; this is a most bleak vision of heterosexual love. When Bluebeard leaves with the young boy from the prologue, there is a ghoulish sense of him passing his proclivities to the next generation, creating a definite shiver down the spine. A darkly satisfying opera that both provokes and delights.

Horror movie star has dark secrets

Wringer Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until November 4

Stewart Roche's new play has a horror movie theme. Elsa (Maeve Fitzgerald) is a film blogger; she arrives at the secluded mansion of ageing star ­Jonathan Ravencliffe (Michael James Ford) to interview him. He played in Hammer Horrors and Roger Corman B-movies and is now about to make a comeback. Mrs Newman (Joan Sheehy), his creepy housekeeper, emits dark Gothic vibes in her brown suit.

Design by Naomi Faughnan is excellent. An ivy-clad window, red plush drapes and a kitsch coffin-shaped chair, all feature. Mark Hendrick's sound design provides spooky atmospherics. Director Aoife Spillane-Hinks keeps the pace rapid.

Elsa has more information about Ravencliffe than she discloses at first; the actor's past contains a number of troubling episodes, including a film where an underage actress has disappeared.

The writing has plenty of sharpness, too: "The Harry Potter series became an unofficial pension fund for British character actors."

The play has lots of twists and turns which are initially intriguing but these eventually lose focus and power; meaty themes are raised and left undeveloped. But three excellent performances make this an enjoyable lunchtime seasonal diversion.

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