Writer: Rosemary Myers and Julianne O’Brien
Director: Tim Rosemary Myers
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
It’s pretty hard to imagine any of the stories included in the Brothers Grimm collection being any weirder and Rumpelstiltskin, which pre-dates the Brothers by thousands of years, with its morality tale about a child stealing mischievous imp is one of the darkest of the fairy tales. Yet Windmill Theatre Company and Company South Australia’s updated version relocates the story to a bonkers comic-book world set in the fashion industry.
Country girl Harriet is new to the big city and desperate to prove to her bullying former schoolfriends that she will be rich and famous. Down-at-heel she happens upon a strange man who in exchange for a precious possession gets her a job at the famous Rumpelstiltskin fashion emporium where she develops designs on the man she thinks is the boss. A love spell is provided in exchange for a future price and soon the dastardly imp returns to claim his prize.
Rosemary Myers and Julianne O’Brien have created a big, bold and colourful show that is one of the most technically accomplished productions you’ll see this winter. Designed by Jonathan Oxlade, the stage is dominated by several concentric arches onto which Chris Edser’s beautiful animations are projected. With almost no additional scenery required, locations move swiftly, each impressively decorated in technicolour as boutiques become dungeons and woodlands merge into abandoned theme parks.
Set in a pseudo-60s world, Oxlade’s costumes reflect the haute couture storyline dressing the characters in elaborate costumes and bold block colours, saving monochrome stripes for the show’s main villain. Rumpelstiltskin is a full-on visual experience from start to finish, revelling in its heightened sugary world of sinister cartoony madness with a moral centre – think Tim Burton meets The Wacky Races with a dash of Doctor Faustus.
While it may be a visual treat, at times the storyline suffers with a number of convolutions that bend the relatively simple original tale into something much more elaborate. There is a rat and a crow in semi-humanised form who assist Rumpelstiltskin in the fashion business, there is Malcolm a male-model hired to be the beautiful face of the business and Tootie a glittery assistant to Harriet conjured from her pocket whistle. Together they create a team of people to help Harriet break the spell but individually they have little to do but weigh down the story.
There is also some confusion about who the true villain is, and although the original story makes the miller’s daughter an innocent victim of the machinations of more powerful men, here Sheridan Harbridge’s Harriet is selfish, vain and obsessed with material possessions. Harbridge is excellent in the role and full of bitterness and desire, but despite a wish to prove herself she becomes increasingly difficult to like, full of entitlement and even stealing Tootie’s boyfriend in a storyline that is never really resolved.
Paul Capsis as the titular Rumpelstiltskin transitions well to a fashion designer taught to hide his ugliness from the world which lends some accidental sympathy to his crimes, and while Capsis clearly relishes the character’s cunning, he leaves plenty of room for redemption. The surrounding cast have plenty of amusing moments particularly Elena Carapetis as Crow and Alirio Zavarce as Rat, both of whom also join the musicians for some of the numbers.
It takes a little while to get going but this new version of Rumpelstiltskin is very silly and full of entertaining moments. What it lacks in satisfactory storytelling it more than makes up for in visual design and technique. It may not quite be the Brothers Grimm but with Christmas around the corner its message about love taking precedence over material possessions is just right for the festive season.
Runs Until: 6 January 2019 | Image: The Other Richard