Marine Furet reviews Tales of the Brothers Grimm, the Sherman Theatre’s Christmas production.
Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm’s Fairy Tales was published in 1812, the result of patient and extended research the brothers pursued in the name of philological glory.
The collection includes many cherished household names such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’, as well as lesser-known ones. In ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’, one of the Brothers Grimm’s more obscure tales, Mouse, Bird and Sausage live in peaceful harmony. Bird’s fear of social judgement leads them to overhaul their way of life, pushing his companions to take on tasks ill-adapted to their nature. At the end of this rather surreal story, all three have died, a consequence of having strayed off their allocated role.
This Christmas production offers an entertaining and wholesome take on the feminist readings of fairy tales once popularised by Angela Carter
Full of erudition and bold maidens, Tales of the Brothers Grimm, Hannah McPake’s new creation for the Sherman theatre, takes delight in taking well-known protagonists off the beaten path and asking whether their allocated roles and stories are what we believed them to be.
At the beginning of the play in 1913, Stevie (Lily Beau) is bracing herself for another depressing Christmas in the company of her uncles (James Ifan and Kyle Lima), both professional bookbinders, while her mother (Hannah McPake) is out campaigning for women’s rights. After another fight with her mother, her uncles’ gift of a collection of the Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales turns out to be holding the key to her woes, carrying her into an imaginary world of wolves, princesses, and frogs-turned-princes – the Grimmdom. Soon, Stevie is faced with evidence that not all protagonists are happy with their lot, however, and embarks on a quest to solve the issues plaguing famous fairy tale characters. In the process, she befriends the narrator (Keiron Self), Cinderella (Katie Elin-Salt), Sleeping Beauty (Bethzienna Williams) and Rapunzel (Sarah Workman). There are other quirky creations, such as an existentially challenged Prince Charming (Ifan) and a swaggering wolf (Lima).
Innovative. Informed. Independent.
Your support can help us make Wales better.
Family-friendly but not simplistic, this Christmas production offers an entertaining and wholesome take on the feminist readings of fairy tales once popularised by Angela Carter. The focus is on self-invention – ‘No one can write your story for you’, as Stevie’s mother reminds her – and on the understandable feeling of fear that comes with leaving behind predictable scenarios and jumping into the unknown. The stories and jokes are accessible to children without being patronising. As a party of two adults, we enjoyed our evening greatly, and I’d wager that parents attending the play on the night had at least as good a night as their children.
There are also musical numbers galore, with actors playing live on stage, including a lovely whimsical number about bookbinding, which we owe to the joint talent of composer Lucy Rivers and musical director Barnaby Southgate. Songs like ‘There’s a Storm Coming’ and ‘To the Edge of the Woods’ have echoes of the best Disney ballads. Some of the faster songs worked slightly less well – maybe due to some technical issues, it was at times a bit difficult to hear the words clearly and the princesses’ solo songs were a little less fluid and catchy – but even the less successful musical numbers were still so enjoyable that they didn’t detract from the pleasure of the show. Lighting work from Andy Pike gives the heroines’ adventure an added touch of drama and pizzaz. There is much to enjoy for everyone.
Tales of the Brothers Grimm will be at the Sherman Theatre until 31 December 2022.
All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.