Review: The Forest Grimm

Eve Rivers 25 January 2016

As this tickling tale weaves together, the audience becomes aware that the Forest Grimm doesn’t simply exist in their imagination. Fantastically and wonderfully, the audience are the Forest Grimm.

Assembling the original, early 19th Century German fairy stories of Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood into one inspired but bizarre drama, Beatriz Santos, the show’s writer, deserves special credit. The dialogue writing is superb, and as riddling and winding as the forest in which the story is set.

Evidently a low-budget performance, the stage design is minimalistic but suited to the intimate environment of Clare Cellars. The ‘fourth wall’ – or the black tape – between the audience, lounging in delightfully comfortable leather couches, and the magical world of the Clare Players was built, knocked down, and rebuilt again many times, giving the play an unsettling but fascinating self-consciousness.

Tom Ashton, the atypical ‘Big Bad Wolf’, is the star of the performance. Delivering his lines with great fluidity and reeking of a delicious, doggy madness, it is he who magnificently sucks the audience in and out of his world.

The other ‘baddies' who also put on great performances are the two witches, played by Lauren Perry and Lydia Sabatini, who portary convincingly evil hags.

The heroes of the story are characteristically fascinating, with the Prince, performed by Jonah Surkes, reminding me at times of the Earl of Gloucester from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Meanwhile the three children in the play, Hansel (Olivia Brett), Gretel (Hannah Grain) and Little Red Cap (Atreyi Chakrabarty) make some great scenes when they pretend to glut upon sugary sensations.

However, the play stumbles somewhat by having a rather hollow ending. As one left the Cellars, it was unclear what the message quite was. Or rather, having understood the message, one was a little disturbed by it: gluttony and greed prevail, incest triumphs, and magic dies – all this is made clear by watching the play! As the Wood-Cutter (Tom Compton) parades up and down the stage in the final scene, delivering his lines with commendable clarity and confidence, something about them seems to ring false.

At the beginning, the play asks for imaginative indulgence from the audience – which I certainly was more than willing to provide – justifying its un-ADC-subsidised props and stage. However, the play ends by asking the audience to enjoy the play without really understanding it, which seems not only strange but also a little insulting to our intelligence. The play is riddling but not particularly hard to follow or understand. Hence it feels more like a tagged-on epilogue attempting to justify the rather hap-dash final knot of the play.

However, this should not detract from an admirable and otherwise enjoyable show. Bring your imagination to this story; it is really quite magical and filled with twists and turns. This peculiar performance makes a memorable evening out.