Hattie Naylor's play at the Soho Theatre exploring sexually motivated violence is well executed but lacks edge
The story of Bluebeard has always been framed by a male dominated view of the world, and the women that Bluebeard tortures and kills have always been labelled as victims. With this in mind, Hattie Naylor brings a modern adaptation of the French fable to the stage in order to question our current complicity with the objectification of women.
The play takes the form of a monologue which is separated into three parts detailing Jim Bluebeard's sadistic sexual encounters with three women who, Jim ensures us, were all complicit: "she knows in her heart that ‘she asked for it'." The accounts that Jim gives are, obviously, perverse but they are not grotesque and they are not shocking; Naylor's intention is to draw you into conversation with Bluebeard - and the laughs that he generates from his asides surely confirm the audience's participation in his act.
Paul Mundell's performance is stately and controlled, with every line and gesture being measured and delivered according to the exacting standards that you would expect from a Christian Grey inspired character. Indeed it is hard not to draw comparisons with 50 Shades from the debonair style of Jim's suave suit and his overly generous gift-giving habit.
Jim Bluebeard has a more sinister habit for knives, however, but the reaction to his avid descriptions of taking a knife to a woman's body is not one of disgust or outrage, rather his words are received in a muted, stunned silence. This response makes one question the show's success: Mundell certainly has a hypnotic control over the audience but this doesn't actually bring us to a greater awareness of our complicity in the acts detailed, or of our implied complicity in sexual violence within society at large.
The play's presentation of sexual violence is certainly direct but its treatment of the issues surrounding this subject matter is, perhaps, too subtle for it to be regarded as provocative or confrontational. It may be poetic in style and well-executed in all, but it lacks the controversial edge that might have made this play a talking point.