Grimm Tales

Duffyphile EMMA ROBERTS withholds the laurels for an unfortunately limp rendition of some fairy tales. They’re freshers but not THAT young.

ADC, 16th-19th November, 11pm, £4-5

Directed by Richard Braham

[rating: 2/5]

‘Twisted fairy-tales’ is a trope that has been exploited ad nauseam in print, stage and screen, but I was buzzing about the fresher’s ADC lateshow. This was because poet laureate and honorary Homertonian Carol Ann Duffy is responsible for this particular adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ classic childhood yarns.

Famed for couplets as shit provocative as: ‘I bought a poisoned goose from a crook (sick, whiffing) / This foul goose laid Nick Griffin’ (my personal favourite), I was looking forward to an evening of dystopian Duffy tales for the happy-slapping generation.

I wanted Goldilocks set on melting ice-caps. Snow White complicated by nuclear warfare. Cinderella on ‘miaow-miaow’. Duffy’s name on the poster had given me high hopes for unintentional hilarity. The last thing I was prepared for was predictability.

But predictable is exactly what this production was – predictable, tame and underwhelming. Forget any of Duffy’s previous work; where was the ‘twisted dark humour’ promised to me on the ADC’s promotional material? Where was the influence of the Brothers Grimm, and their notoriously nasty narratives? Hackneyed ‘fairy-tale gone wrong’ may be difficult to bear, but I would have taken it over these Bowdlerised, sentimental renderings any day. Full of Disneyfied, cliché-ridden prose (‘their faces were as lovely as roses, but their hearts were as ugly as thorns’) and two-dimensional stock characters (Sweet kids! Witchy witches! Bumbling West-Country tradesmen!), these were not adaptations but rather regurgitations. And of all the most boring, well-known bits at that.

I’m not seriously suggesting that Cinderella should’ve been tripping balls (am I?), but these stories needed some sort of edge. And I realise that unlike her adult-themed poetry, Duffy had children in mind when writing this. But she didn’t have to make it as bland as a toast sandwich.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to stage this in Cambridge in the first place. Apart from it being primarily aimed at children, the play offers no meaty parts for hungry freshers to sink their teeth into. The cast zealously multiroled, tackling all the different characters’ voices and physicalities with aplomb, but there is only so much emotional gravitas you can bestow on an Evil Stepmother. The actors tried their best to be as entertaining as possible with the stories, and had I been sitting in a school assembly watching this at the right age, I would have been drooling with delight. But the real humour for last night’s jaded audience lay in the cast’s cheeky ad-libs (and a number of embarrassing prop failures).

This brings me nicely onto the design. Which, if I’m persevering with honesty, was a bit of a train wreck. An attempt at minimalism was made with the only piece of set being a multipurpose giant canvas circle. Unfortunately, the very conspicuous pulleys and scaffolding and the noticeable trouble the actors had trying to manoeuvre it somewhat detracted from this vision of simplicity. Various props and instruments cluttered the stage, and watching the actors trip over mic stands and struggle to find their next prop was sloppy and distracting. An ambitious mixture of organic and recorded sound effects resulted in some spine-tingling moments, and some very obvious cock-ups.

Everything did pick up noticeably in the eleventh hour. The last tale regaled, that of Aschenputtel (think Cinderella in lederhosen), was imaginatively conceived with a fragile-looking puppet, some very affecting harp-playing, moody spotlighting, and, at last, some real gore (and a flash of black humour). Another notable moment was Gretel pushing the Witch into the oven. Piercing screams, glaring crimson light and a rumbling didgeridoo (I know, RANDOM!) combined to assault the senses and mark the horror of an event often brushed over in other retellings of the tale. If only there could have been more instances in the production that sensitively re-imagined, instead of dutifully re-told.

Fairy tales are part of our collective heritage. We all know them. If we are going to be told them again, we need to be made to see them in a way we haven’t before. Otherwise we will lose patience. This production, while advertised as a Gothic reinterpretation, fails to put the ‘vamp’ in ‘revamp’; but does put the ‘there was some nice new acting talent on-stage’ at the end of my review.

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