Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok and The 8th Door by LLiam Paterson and Matthew Lenton at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh introduced the audience to a joint collaborative work between Scottish Opera and Vanishing Point Theatre.
Our opening performance “The 8th Door” should perhaps have been the last performance as in this new work from Vanishing Point’s founder and artistic Director Matthew Lenton and Scottish Opera Composer in Residence Lliam Paterson, we explore further the possibilities of Bluebeard’s Castle, and an 8th door which probes the many things left unsaid between Bluebeard and Judith after opening the seven doors of the castle. This is not a direct updating of the characters but a more abstract exploration through theatre, visual media and music of two people’s thoughts and feelings as they explore their inner and outer self and explore their relationships with one another…a sort of mirror world to that of Bluebeard and Judith.
Lliam Paterson has created a work here that through discord, space and silence mirrors that of Bartok’s music for Bluebeard, and the use of six singers (off stage) gives the whole performance an at times dream world like sound quality.
Reviewing this work is one of the most difficult things that I have had to write in a long time as for me any real description of what this merging of “cutting edge” theatre and Scottish Opera is like on stage will already put a descriptive image in the reader’s head before they experience the work, and that itself could change how you perceive it, and I think then the whole experience of first time exposure to this piece might change, so I am deliberately leaving big blanks here.
For myself, I loved the music, but more “cutting edge” theatre has never really been to my taste, so for me there was a mixed reaction here. This is a “marmite production”, you will be at one end or the other in your opinions on this one; there is no middle ground here. Either way though, Scottish Opera with their artistic partner Vanishing Point need credit for this production for simply not taking the easy road and taking the brave steps of taking risks in new directions.
Bluebeard’s Castle, although the second performance tonight, could be considered the prelude to “The 8th Door”, and our exploration of opening those 7 earlier doors of the castle is taken with internationally acclaimed singers Karen Cargill and Robert Hayward. In contrast to our first performance, this is a very dramatic performance by both Karen and Robert as we explore the very dark world of the castle, the locked rooms and Bluebeard himself.
Visually we have an odd contrast between the darkness of the story (which is as dark as anything that someone like Edgar Allan Poe would have written) and the set, as this is not one of castle interiors and seven doors, but instead a very contemporary living room where the castle and its rooms are suggested at through skilful lighting and stage effects, and a big part of keeping this illusion going is the skilful story telling of Karen Cargill and Robert Hayward as they interpret the darkness of the story and Bartok’s music so well. Together they make a fine team, but real emotional depth between Bartok and Judith is at its peak in the closing scenes.
Some people might not like the modern settings of this set or the more minimalist approach in design, but for me, I liked this set a lot. Set, Lighting & Projection Design Kai Fischer has done a great job here in giving us the illusion of a gloomy castle and how we explore what is behind the seven doors is a very clever use of story telling and stage techniques. There are some real surprises in this set design as we explore some of the worlds behind these doors.
Bela Bartok can be an acquired musical taste for some people (I like his music), and The Scottish Opera Orchestra with Sian Edwards conducting both works brought the music vividly to life in these performances.
Both performances tonight (love them or not) are good examples of why I like Scottish Opera so much as a company…they are always constantly experimenting and evolving. We are all back on more familiar ground very soon as Scottish Opera bring their production of “La Boheme” to us in May and June.
Further details on all Scottish Opera productions are available at
The new season’s productions have also just been announced.
Review by Tom King