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Grimm Tales for Fragile Times and Broken People – Creation Theatre

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Creation Theatre Rep Company

Director: Gari Jones

Wicked witches, neglectful parents and the supernatural power of nature, fairy stories by the Brothers Grimm have been given a ghoulish retelling by Criterion Theatre who use Zoom to stream a visually impressive 60-minute anthology of overlapping stories. As The Juniper Tree blends into Hansel and Gretel that intrudes on Rumpelstiltskin, Grimm Tales for Fragile Times and Broken People is an interesting experiment in presentation.

A pre-recorded film of monologues edited together, Creation Theatre’s latest show mixes narrative and dialogue using just five actors who individually tell a particular story while acting as characters in other tales. If it sounds confusing, then it sometimes is, especially early on when the audience is trying to get used to the style and approach. Eventually, as more familiar tales appear and the random intrusions eventually expand into substantial segments, a creepy atmosphere begins to build.

Strip away the style and Grimm Tales for Fragile Times and Broken People is essentially a Jackanory event with five stories told by five actors. By splicing them together in this way, the show plays with audience expectations and their knowledge of these familiar pieces while giving them a macabre circus spin that uses physical set-design, colour, costume, elaborate make-up and music to enhance their disconcerting outcomes.

Each of these characters exists in a small, confined room from which they appear unable to escape and each is designed by Ryan Dawson Laight to reflect the stories they contain, including curving paper tree shapes for The Juniper Tree with a blue and white tinge, or a wood-slatted hidey-hole containing Hansel and Gretel’s narrator with its net curtain or the dank, green-washed basement cell where Rumpelstiltskin is revealed.

Naturally, with several tales filmed in relative isolation there is notable variation in the effectiveness of these stories with some given far more personality than others. The best are the most familiar. Annabelle Terry brings an intensity to Hansel and Gretel, acting the roles of each character with relish. Similarly, Natasha Rickman’s grimy puppet-obsessive recounts the tale of the miller’s daughter and her work to spin straw into gold with verve, adding a modern spin to some of the language and a quirky narrator persona.

By carving up the tales and distributing them across the show, some of the other stories do run out of stream by the end or are far harder to keep track of. Graeme Rose maintains his character well but the lengthy unfolding of The Juniper Tree lacks clarity while Kofi Dennis and Dharmesh Patel’s sections are a little too static to take hold.

Thematically, there is an obsession with the moon and the equality of Death across the programme (with the latter having the final word), perhaps at odds with Creation’s final message about community as the show’s viewers are revealed to one another via the Zoom gallery. Grimm Tales for Fragile Times and Broken People revels in its presentation of the twisted fairy tale and while a little over-engineered, which can make it difficult to follow in places, it experiments with new ways to tell familiar stories.

Runs here until 13 March

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An interesting experiment 

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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