By Beatrix Christian
Starring Lucy Bell and Jacek Koman
Belvoir St Theatre until May 1
Reviewed by Mina O'Shea
Billed as "a contemporary Gothic peepshow", Blue Murder is a play haunted by women dripping with blood and a surrealistic "sweeper" with empty, staring eyes. It is set on Black Rock, an isolated island in Sydney Harbour, recreated effectively with heaving, breathing, billowing blue canvas and the eerie, echoing sounds of dripping water.
The island is the home and castle of the writer, Blue. He opens the play with the cry "I need a woman!", as a cure for the creative impasse he has reached.
The female fuel for his creativity arrives straight off the train from Nyngan in the form of the young Evelyn Carrol, an aspiring writer. She has come to Sydney to create her own life, far from the gossip and low expectations the townsfolk had for her, and eagerly accepts the live-in position of assistant that Blue had advertised.
So the two main characters are set up for a breathless (and interval-less) battle of wills, through which many issues are played out.
Blue's three murdered wives come back to warn Evelyn of his evil intentions, reminding us all to listen hard for the muffled voices of women throughout history. They are the three muses who correspond to the periods of Blue's life when he was (as he puts it wryly) a mediocre painter, a bad poet and a children's story writer who hates children but made a lot of money.
Evelyn challenges the role of woman as muse rather than active creator, put to her amid his chillingly charming banter when he tells her she has eyes for gazing into, not staring out of. Thanks to the warnings of the previous wives, murdered when they became pregnant, Evelyn has a chance to throw off the theory of biology as destiny, to celebrate rather than be condemned by the ability to give birth.
The "official sweeper" of Black Rock, Roy, can remember a time when birds would visit the island, and when the colour green existed there, but he has been passive in the face of Blue's atrocities, dutifully and unquestioningly sweeping and conducting the fateful weddings. He symbolises all the nameless people who have stood by in the face of history. Inspiringly, this timid character manages to throw off apathy and break his broom, thus allowing the truth of the past to come rushing out.
The drama lies in the struggle Evelyn goes through to resist the seduction and resulting destruction Blue offers her and maintain her independence and ability to shape her own life and dreams.
It's an important and relevant struggle, but somehow the play fails to make the issues hit home. Perhaps it is the historically ambiguous setting and Gothic overtones; Evelyn seems to have gone back to fight on Emily Bronte's turf, rather than on the terrain of women in the present. Or the weakness may lie in the overdramatic portrayal of the dead women, which lessens their ability to affect us.
However, the play does have power, cleverly using characters, word play, visual orchestration and drama to explore past and ever-present issues of gender and creativity. Both men and women with a vision of a new and decent society will rally to Evelyn's closing line: "My future for your past, never!". A thoroughly possessing evening — but you'll have to be swift to see it by May 1.