Review: Grimm Tales

Maria Dimitrova 21 November 2011

Grimm Tales

ADC Lateshow, 11pm, until Sat 19th Nov

A melting pot full of energy, The Grimm Tales at the ADC takes you deep into the woods for a night of gothic folklore, spooky ambience, and dark humour. Adapted by Carol Ann Duffy and dramatized by Tim Supple, the much-loved Grimm fairy-tales were brought to life in an imaginative and contemporary way, true to Duffy’s non-Disney and, indeed, grim aesthetic. By using a band of seven actors who narrate and play all the roles in a constant interchange, the directors have captured the energy and comedy enfolding each of their chosen four tales: Hansel and Gretel, The Golden Goose, The Magic Table, the Golden Donkey and the Cudgel in the Sack, and Ashputtel, inviting us into a world of wicked siblings, sinister old ladies, and donkeys that spit gold – from both ends.

The story-telling format, punctuated by constant diegetic disruptions and transitions from tale to tale, as well as a few metatheatrical slips, made for a few great moments between actors and audience. The actors began as themselves, presenting their roles as mediators and storytellers, and then continued to switch on and off different stories as narratives beautifully interweaved with one another: for example, the princess of The Golden Goose was played by puppet-leading the unconscious body of Gretel, who is sleeping onstage as part of the previous story. The dynamic of scene transition and shifts between shadow play, slapstick comedy, and puppet theatre made the show feel more like a bag of tricks than a coherent piece, and with some tricks coming out decidedly better than others.

Through focusing on the tales’ dark side as an extension of their inherent comedy, the performance was full of laugh-out-loud moments and sinister scenes imbued with humour. The gory episode when Ashputtel’s (the prototype for Cinderella) two sisters cut off a toe and a heel respectively to fit into her tiny slipper and marry the prince is grippingly enacted and truly chilling in both is violence and absurdity. Overall, the mixture of the scary with the grotesque and funny, while offering a fascinating glimpse into the warped Grimm world of children’s nightmares, sometimes went overboard into a directorial self-indulgence. Some scenes felt unnecessarily long, and there were moments that felt like an inside joke. The black and white identical costumes and bare set, though necessary for the actors’ constant swapping of roles and, often unexplainably, gender, did not do justice to the tales’ vivid imagery.

Still, the cast made up for it with a great collaborative energy and memorable performances, especially Edward Eustace who was equally brilliant as a prince, an innkeeper’s daughter, and a chicken. If you have ever read the Grimm Tales, do not miss this show which exposes their dark, mischievous, and often quite unsettling side in a fresh and innovative way.

Maria Dimitrova