Theatre review: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at Platform Theatre

Atmospheric and powerful production is helped by the striking scenes created by BA students

Opera in the UK is undergoing a stealthy renaissance. It’s taking place at the fringes, where low budgets meet high creative ambition. This unique production of Bel� Bart�k’s 1918 opera Bluebeard’s Castle by the English Pocket Opera Company is a perfect example.

Judith (Anna Gregory) is Duke Bluebeard’s (Dominic Barrand) new bride. She goes to live with him in his dark and foreboding castle. Inside, she finds seven locked doors, and demands her husband give her the keys to each one.

The audience is led around the Platform Theatre, which is really a ‘performance complex’, with no permanent seating area. Behind each ‘door’ is a space designed by a student from the BA (Hons) Performance Design and Practice course at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design.

Each interpreted the brief in wildly different ways, equally impressive in their own right. The Armory (Frances Cooper) was splendidly realised, with a glowing atomic bomb suspended from the ceiling and a table covered with test tubes and petri-dishes evoking a chemical weapons laboratory. The detail and scale of this room juxtaposed with the surrealist unease of the Torture Chamber (Artemis Evlogimenou) to great effect.

Although both are vocally very strong, Gregory seems more at home with the close-up nature of the performance than Barrand. Being in and among the audience places her under unusually detailed scrutiny; she is an expressive

performer, with an acting talent to match her vocal ability.

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Modern buildings don’t lend themselves well to drama, since they seem to eradicate the romance of history. But here, among the exposed brickwork, concrete, and steel, the production creates real atmosphere and a powerful, satisfying finale.

* Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was at the Platform Theatre in Handyside Street, N1C, from January 17, 2012, to January 21.