First things first – let’s say that Paul Mundell gives a truly extraordinary performance as a psychotic white-collar Bluebeard in this new interpretation of the famous legend at the Soho Theatre. Groomed to perfection, he channels Bates and Bateman with a flash of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Every word of his monologue is savoured, the hard consonants sucked on like boiled sweets (or glacé eyeballs perhaps).
For most of the duration of his hour on stage Mundell sits enthroned, legs splayed, staring right at the closely-gathered audience as he gleefully recounts the stories of the three women he has sexually abused and murdered. Then in one mad segment as the thought of his bloody transgressions overwhelms him, he explodes into a dance routine that makes you feel you might just become his latest victim. Simultaneously charismatic and repellent – we hope to see much more of this fine actor in the future.
Though hopefully he is given better words to roll around his tongue next time; for the critical problem with this play lies in Hattie Naylor’s interminably dreary prose. Perhaps she is trying to say that a wife-killing city boy would only express himself in the most banal and repetitive language – which is probably a reasonable view – but it does make for a yawnsome audience experience. Each twisted relationship – Sally from Burnley, Annabel from Hartlepool, Judy from Chippenham – is given a frank and forensic run-down though there is little variation and hardly a memorable line. She tells us nothing about the subject of sexualised violence beyond the pat idea that it is practiced by creeps. This is all chewed meat and even the top drawer acting can’t disguise that fact. Dare we say it – someone needs to give Naylor a good slap.
Bluebeard is on at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until 1 December 2013. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.