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Grimm Tales review

Jonathan Schofield enjoys a right royal blood thirsty fairy tale of biff bash bom at the Library Theatre

Written by . Published on December 15th 2009.

Grimm Tales review

If you're the type of parent who worries that computer game violence is destroying the innocence of childhood, then you best not go to this raw, visceral re-working of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

With most of the stories – as with most computer games - it's good against evil with hard work and perseverance rewarded. Then there's the maverick bit to life you can't control: it's always better to to be good looking and lucky. Always.

Adapted by Manchester-based Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy this production goes to the heart of the stories in all their macabre glory. We get the familiar and the less familiar: Ashputtel (one of many hundred re-workings of Cinderella), Hansel and Gretel, The Golden Goose, The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage, Iron Hans and the Lady and the Lion.

The production is tight, the performers, who chop and change through the roles, are excellent (my favourites were Sophia Nomvete and Pete Ashmore). There is music, singing, action, spectacle and laughter. The latter coming from the audience at the slapstick stories on stage. Nothing seems flabby or needless and director Rachel O'Riordan should be proud of herself.

You'll enjoy the set too. In this year's dreary debut opera from Rufus Wainwright at the Palace, for Manchester International Festival, the only saving grace was the staging. That Prima Donna set was as gloriously moody as the rest of the production was tediously flat. The Grimm Tales staging is even better, and probably cost a fraction of the budget. It combines an eighteenth century drawing room with the wild wood to titillate the eye and enhance the action.

Back to the stories. With most of them – as with most computer games - it's good against evil with hard work and perseverance rewarded. Then there's the maverick bit to life you can't control: it's always better to to be good looking and lucky. Always.

The kids instinctively know the truth of all this and take it in – as they do with computer games. For the adults the stories feed back to a time when morality was fixed, when the contrast between light and shadow was clear cut and the complexities of adult life were something for the future.

There's a further important element as well, which is picked out in a section in the programme called 'Grimm Tales: In and Out of the Shadow, a Jungian interpretation of the stories.' Bless the Library Theatre for giving us a Jungian interpretation.

'A regular theme in these tales,' writes Phil Goss, 'is how important it is to stick to your own path in life – if you steal what belongs to others, fate will deny you what wasn't yours in the first place. The stepsisters in Ashputtle (sic) even disfigure their feet in an attempt to make the shoe fit. Rather than wasting time and effort on trying to take what belongs to another, better to focus on your own path, however mundane it may appear. Being who you are is much more fruitful.'

This is over-intellectualising perhaps. You can of course forget all that and just bask in the fun and the horror of Grimm Tales as delivered through the vision of Carol Ann Duffy and dramatised here by Tim Supple. It's well worth the effort.

There's a final poignancy to the production as well. This is the Library Theatre's last Christmas show in its present and much loved home of 57 years before refurbishment sweeps it away.

You could paint a picture of an evil stepmother Council banishing the Library Theatre like Dummling in the Golden Goose to a life of wandering and exile before, the stepmum, now transformed into a fairy godmother, finds the traveller a home in the sunlit uplands of the old Theatre Royal down the road on Peter Street.

This would be wide of the mark. The Library needs a refurb and the present theatre is too small to contain the ambitions of such a lively company. In the end the expected move to Theatre Royal should deliver a happy ending.

Grimm Tales adapted by Carol Ann Duffy is on at the Library Theatre until 23 January 2010.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Grasser JamDecember 15th 2009.

Schofield's right. This is a wonderful. A real antidote to Aladdin. Although I like to do both styles of Christmas shows.

FiggyDecember 15th 2009.

Hi, is this production suitable for older kids (13 & 18) - we've got cabin fever from being stuck in the house over Christmas and it looks quite good.

Jonathan Schofield - editorDecember 15th 2009.

Jamie we have news about the move in the Architecture section under the article called, 'The Library Theatre to move into the Theatre Royal'.

SandraDecember 15th 2009.

Went last night. It's a magical performance.

Jamie CookDecember 15th 2009.

Shame about the Library Theatre moving. Any more news about this?

GordoDecember 15th 2009.

Thank the Lord we have you Schoey. It's a little known fact, but the Library Theatre was voted the most uncomfortable in the World by Gordo eighteen years ago.

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