Jack Mann Complex, 53 Solway Ave, Ilam (University of Canterbury's College of Education Campus), Christchurch

09/10/2012 - 13/10/2012

Production Details

Bluebeard’s Castle

Welcome to Bluebeard’s Castle, a neo-gothic panopticon, where you can visit Bluebeard’s wives waiting for their master while telling their stories, from the dressing room, the kitchen, the torture chamber, the winter garden, the bedroom and the laboratory.

Theatre and Film Studies 

We study theatre and film as performing arts and as cultural processes in order to provoke a more direct understanding of ourselves as participants in, and as performers and consumers of, culture.  Theatre and Film Studies students are encouraged to work both as artists and as scholars at all levels: to read and think and write, but also to create, to act and direct, and to shoot and edit films. 

Our approach is interactive and interdisciplinary, incorporating literary, historical, aesthetic, philosophical, psychoanalytic and socio-political theories from the twin perspectives of the artist and the spectator/reader, through the experiences of doing and watching as well as through the processes of intellectual inquiry and research.  Ideally students study both theatre and film, as these disciplines have in common various theories of genre, representation and performance, as well as the practices of acting and directing.

Theatre and Film Studies courses integrate theory and practice, with performance and digital film work serving as grounds for scholarly writing and all research having the potential to provoke artistic experimentation.

October 9-13, 2012
Jack Mann Auditorium, Drama Studio 2
University of Canterbury  

Nick Frost
Emma Johnston
Stuart McKay

Performers (in order of appearance)
Morgyn Cliff
Maria Webb
Chantall Alberts
Fiona Bennetts
Samantha Creed
Jessica Shaw
Hannah Pearce
Jessica Johnson

Set: Chris Reddington, Stuart Lloyd-Harris, Richard Till
Director’s Assistants: Marian McCurdy, Greta Bond
Lighting/Sound: Richard Till, Stuart Lloyd-Harris
Videography: Stuart McKay
Production: Greta Bond, Marian McCurdy

Louis: Himself   

Immersive, engaging, challenging

Review by Erin Harrington 10th Oct 2012

A young woman has come to Bluebeard’s castle to marry him, despite rumours about the fates of his previous wives. He needs to go away on business and tells her she has the run of the castle – but not to unlock to one particular room.  The wife is desperately curious; in the story, she unlocks the door to the bloody chamber and finds the bodies of the previous wives.

Bluebeard’s Castle lets us follow Bluebeard’s latest wife’s macabre discoveries. She sits in her white bridal outfit atop a pile of stacked rostra – our seating – like the favour on a ghastly wedding cake, before moving around the space, discovering the stories of the previous wives.

At the end she cannot fathom what she has seen and hopes that either she has been dreaming, or that she can somehow “tame the beast” by being better than and different from the rest. Her words speak to the romantic dream of an ideal coupling and the twisted logic of abusive relationships, and clearly she is as complicit in her presumed fate as her predecessors.

The programme states Blubeard’s Castle is a neo-gothic panopticon, a circular prison with a watch-house in the centre, conceived by philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in which each of the inmates never know if they are being watched or not, resulting in the inmates’ self-policing.

This is borne out by the magnificent, inventive and immersive set (by Chris Reddington), and a well-considered sound and lighting design, which totally transforms the drab school gymnasium-like space of the Drama Workshop. We sit on and move around the central rostra, as the tawdry red velvet curtains which make up the walls of the circular space are drawn back to reveal each wife’s “cell”.

There is a distorted dressing room, a functional kitchen, an exercise room (which we view through its ceiling!), a garden, a bedroom-cum-torture chamber, and a disturbing clinical chamber, which we observe through a video feed.

This roll call of desirable and desirous women calls to mind Free Theatre’s recent production of I Sing the Body Electric, also directed by Peter Falkenberg, in which nameless sailors navigate their way through a technological honey-trap of mythical temptresses. In each case the women are frighteningly disposable.

However, where the panopticon requires its prisoners to police themselves, each wife is painfully aware of her need to be desired by Bluebeard and her need to be better than the other wives, even though we are given evidence – again and again – that he is emotionally distant and sexually and physically abusive.

This is most explicitly articulated by a pathetic, breathy and near-tearful ingénue who convinces herself that she can make an effort to embrace the sadomasochistic implements of torture in Bluebeard’s bedroom, and be more of a sex toy than his previous wives, if that’s what’s really going to make him happy. The disturbing clinical chamber’s grotesque inhabitants bear out this self destructive streak. Two painfully contorted women, in conjoined, faceless body suits, hiss and spit out desperate, hateful and jealous statements of lust as they compete for the absent Bluebeard’s affection. 

Strangely, despite our position as viewers in the metaphorical prison watch-house, our gaze, and the gaze of the inquiring white bride, is never acknowledged. As such each tableau is a peep show or a circus sideshow, playing out for our enjoyment.

I found much of the performance to be extraordinarily camp. The opening overture, sung by Emma Johnson and Stuart McKay, is accompanied by an organist (Nick Frost) at a gorgeously constructed faux pipe organ, which provides the music for the whole performance. It is as much The Abominable Dr Phibes as Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera.

The tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the performances gives the piece a gallows humour that is occasionally augmented by a bitter pathos.

The performance forms part of the assessment for the Theatre and Film Studies theatre students’ final year, and while each wife’s performance is committed, some are inconsistent or a little heavy handed. I greatly enjoyed the component parts of the piece, but I felt that on the whole the performance was unevenly presented. In particular, I became disengaged during the disorienting audio-visual stimulation of the performance’s final sequence, in which the latest wife tries to come to terms with her discovery. While the technical elements were certainly exciting and well deployed, they did little for my emotional and narrative investment in the story.

Bluebeard’s Castle is running as a part of the University of Canterbury’s arts festival Platform, and it is both enjoyable and challenging. Immersive, engaging theatre experiences such as this are greatly appreciated. 


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