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“Bluebeard” by ART-VIC Anglo-Russian Theatre Company, Performed at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London

April 11, 2018

 

 

“Bluebeard”: ART-VIC production, an adaption by Victor Sobchak based on Max Frisch’s cognomial novel.

The play tells the story of a medical doctor who is accused of having murdered his ex-wife. It is quite interesting that in the late seventies Frisch developed writer’s block and “Bluebeard” was his last novel, released in 1982. Frisch himself was married and divorced three times, half of the times Dr Schaad, the protagonist of the play, was.

However, let’s get to the performance itself.

The first thing to take in is, of course, the set. It is held in a quite minimalistic style, with a table and chair in the front, symbolising the attorney’s desk, a table and a chair in the back, symbolising Dr. Schaad’s home, and a curtain in the right back corner, smoothly creating a wall and entrance or exit. Two details instantly catch the eye - a few sitting Barbie dolls lined up on a shelf in the left corner and a red and white round target in the middle of the back wall. Later in the play the audience will understand that the Barbie dolls all symbolise Dr Schaad’s ex-wives and the target will be used to depict and symbolise Rosalind’s, Schaad’s last ex-wife’s, death.

After the lights go down and then back up again, the stage is lit up with red lights, resembling the atmosphere of a red lights district, and the opening scene features Dr Felix Schaad (Dainius Valutis) watching a love couple (Julia Varvara-Mead, Joshua Richards) swing in an erotic dance from a distance. Those dances, each held in a different style, take place many times throughout the play, showing, I believe, Felix Schaad’s memories of Rosalind and how much he loved her and how the thought of her being with another man, not least due to her profession as a prostitute, made him sick, mad, jealous. For each of those dance scenes Rosalind (Julia Varvara-Mead) wears different dresses and costumes, from a long evening dress, to a oriental costume, sexy underwear or a ballet dress.

In the second half of the play those dances always end with a nameless lover, and each time those are different characters, killing Rosalind in various ways, which kind of already gives the audience the hint that it wasn’t Felix Schaad who killed her, but rather one of Rosalind’s other lovers.

But, back to the first scene.

After the dancing couple performs their first dance, they disappear off the stage, the light changes to a cool blue and in a voice over with the interrogation of Dr Schaad by the attorney is transmitted to the audience, this way displaying Dr Schaad’s memories of the interrogation, condemning him to replay the trial in his mind, which then culminates in Dr Schaad proclaiming that he was justified for lack of evidence. This phrase - the acquittal because of “insufficient evidence” marks the main theme of the play and echoes in Schaad’s troubled brain and torments him very much, with him repeatedly saying that he loved Rosalind very much.

The performance is structured in quite a constant way - the attorney (Ina Kim) would either sit at her desk with a folder or walk around the stage, asking questions to Dr. Schaad and the witnesses, who were all his ex-wives, hence there is quite a large cast. All his six ex-wives (Angelica Fomina, Larissa Volkova, Julia Filipovscaia, Tatiana Arhipova, Liliya Ward) had very different personalities and were of different age.

What’s quite interesting to me is that this tantalising novel by Max Frisch and the play by Victor Sobchak is actually an adaptation of the tale of Bluebeard, who was a villainous knight who had seven wives and killed six of them, whereas all of Dr Schaad’s wives but Rosalind are alive.

Although the play might seem as a typical murder mystery, the suspense does not lie with the investigation, the interrogation or the verdict, but rather with the drama revolving around Schaad’s own conscience. And even though he was acquitted, he doubts his innocence, re-living the trial in his head and fleeing into a sea of alcohol and billiard. He himself says that he started targeting the balls instead of wildly hitting them with trembling hands, and only when he stops playing he starts hearing the attorney again.The depiction of this game was quite curious, as there was no actual billiard table, but the actors were showing its presence with their gestures: mainly Felix Schaad himself and sometimes the attorney, which was also drawing a metaphorical parallel to the trial and the back and forth of repeated questions in the courtroom.

The whole play is a fascinating montage made out of inner monologues and memories from the trial accompanied by cold light blue lights and his memories of Rosalind and turmoil inside of his head followed by red lights. Thinking about the conglomerate of the scenes it appears that those memory flashes that Schaad is confronted with are not only flashbacks from the trial, but also episodes of imaginative trial scenes. The fact that some of his memories are not actual memories, but his imagination, is clear when, for example, in the introductory scene the attorney is dressed like a prostitute or in another scene when she takes part in an orgy with Dr Schaad, Rosalind and Rosalind’s lover and in one of the scenes in which she seduces Schaad. Considering that Rosalind is dead, the audience understands that it is all in his mind.

However, most of the time the border between reality and fiction, between the real and the imaginary trial, between memories and dreams is rather unclear and blurred, both for the audience and Dr Felix Schaad himself.

Schaad is being chased by the attorney with her constant phrase “The truth and nothing but the truth” and while during the trial he says “I did not do it”, after the trial, now, he says “I am not guilty”. This illustrates how much the trial has challenged his conscience and he realises that he has forgotten or even suppressed certain episodes from his life and at some point he even asks himself whether he had killed Rosalind and suppressed this memory. This uncertainty is taking over the audience as well as up until the end it is not clear who actually killed Rosalind. 

 

Photo credits: Gin Mar