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Rumpelstiltskin – Sadler’s Wells, Digital Stage

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Scenario Writer: Carol Ann Duffy

Director: Liv Lorent

Who is the real villain of the Rumpelstiltskin story? Is it the strange little man who spins straw into gold and demands the Queen’s first born child in return or is it the King who allows himself to be so consumed by grief that he abandons his son and becomes so miserly he demands a poor shepherd girl create gold for him? This ambiguity is at the heart of the balletLORENT company’s dance interpretation now available to stream on the Sadler’s Wells Facebook page and Youtube channel after it appeared at the venue previously.

When his mother, the Queen, dies in childbirth the boy Rumpelstiltskin grows up without the love of his father who cannot cope with the loss of his wife. Abandoned to live in the forest, Rumpelstiltskin tries to play with the local peasant children but is chased away by everyone except the shepherd’s daughter. Years later, in an attempt to please the King, a pageant is held where the shepherd unfoundedly brags his daughter can spin straw into gold, so when the King demands a demonstration just who will help her?

balletLORENT’s production creates a strange fairy tale land that is both simple and happy as well as deeply sinister. The emphasis is on the rural with costumes inspired by Eastern European and Middle Eastern design that give the dancers plenty of room to move and create, but Michele Clapton’s designs along with Phil Eddolls’ set add a cartoony, hyper real quality that ensure the scenario doesn’t appear too ordinary, allowing the magical elements of the story to emerge.

On screen the focus is very much on the theatrical however, homing in on the faces of the dancers and giving primacy to storytelling clarity enhanced by Ben Crompton’s narration that shapes and directs the story. This consequently reduces the impact of the movement and while there is a greater emphasis on acrobatics, the feeling of the dance and the use of choreography to tell the story is lessened by the shot and close-up choices.

The proximity of the camera also encourages the audience to pick holes in some of the narrative choices and in what appears to be a family show full of adorable peasant children and others sweetly dressed as sheep. The heavily sexual overtone that indicates the relationship between the King and his first wife feels inappropriate, while the conclusion (spoiler alert) in which his second wife, the once lowly shepherd girl, marries the King’s son Rumpelstiltskin and they raise his half-brother together is morally dubious at best.

The dancing itself is high quality with a varied free flowing style that suits the fantastical nature of this production. As Rumpelstiltskin Gavin Coward brings plenty of characterisation to the lonely abandoned boy who longs for acceptance and love while Natalie Trewinnard as the shepherd’s daughter is expressive in her movements as the plot takes her from country innocence to fear and deception.

This 90-minute production includes a blank screen 10-minute interval, which you can skip forward, and in the hands of Director Liv Lorent it rattles along at a decent pace despite the slightly sagging backstory provided by renowned poet Carol Ann Duffy that dominates Act One. Although this filmed version emphasises mime over dance, production values are high, and the world of the story will appeal to family viewing.

Streaming here until 9 April 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

A strange fairy tale

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.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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