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Fringe Theatre

Blueballs review

Blueballs is a multi-layered, gripping, and intelligent play that is a convincing feminist rendition of the tale Bluebeard for our times.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It starts with a bang: loud bass and cold blue light open the performance to reveal two people, just married, now standing together, dancing slowly. Yet the tension between them is palpable; they don’t know each other, and the audience senses that something is wrong. The uncanny opposition between the slow dance and the thudding bass foreshadows the conflict that will unfold over the next 30 minutes.

Written by Iris Supple-Still and performed by Theatre Paradok, this is a modern reimagining of the folktale Bluebeard, exploring the relationship between a young man and woman, power, and consent. This student production, performed at La Belle Angele in Just the Tοnic, keeps the audience caught in a maelstrom of quick-witted exchanges that the two actors fire at each other like gunshots in a simple but focused staging.

She, ever reserved, sharp and alert, and he, a seemingly charismatic, rich hedonist, engage in a war of words, at once careful, probing, tentative and provocative.

As the performance progresses, the couple’s sinister circumstances are revealed: married by arrangement, they are now alone for the first time, locked in a room. To heighten this tension, the performance would have profited from a smaller, more intimate space. However, actors Ellie Kilburn and Kasper Hilton-Hille succeed in creating an intense, poignant atmosphere, as their characters get to know each other better. 

The dialogue is a tantalising mix of superficial small talk and profounder discussions, from questions about their favourite drinks to what death means to them, delivered at a rapid pace that changes constantly between monosyllabic answers and free-flowing streams of thought. She – ever reserved, sharp and alert – and he – a seemingly charismatic, rich hedonist – engage in a war of words, at once careful, probing, tentative and provocative. As they fathom who the other is, they slowly but inevitably approach the play’s destructive, somewhat abrupt, climax.

While the tension up to this point has been constantly heightened by skillfully maintaining the distance between the two characters, the play now moves quickly toward its conclusion and becomes increasingly physical. The actors are impressive in their violent fighting scenes and deliver the struggle for life in an uncomfortably real way.

What really sets the play apart is the beautiful, witty, free verse, that takes the audience through a stream of conversation with unexpected twists and turns. Blueballs is a multi-layered, gripping, and intelligent play that is a convincing feminist rendition of the tale Bluebeard for our times.

Image courtesy of Theatre Paradok