Light a candle, dim the lights and prepare yourself for an unsettling hour in this macabre, otherworldly production from Creation Theatre. You might also want to get a stiff drink. Because this selection of Grimm’s fairy tales digs deep into the darkest aspects of those classic stories, taking us on an evocative, unsettling adventure.
Creation are masters of Zoom theatre, giving a quality to the format that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. In this production they take several ancient tales and weave them together onscreen in bizarre, claustrophobic boxes. You might know the stories, but will probably never have experienced them as intimately as this. The storytelling is impeccable, with the cast so totally immersed in their nightmarish characters that their chilling experiences become compelling, drawing us in tightly. The aesthetic for the collection is gothic, highly theatrical and damaged, which perfectly complements the edginess of the tales. Sets range from a straightforward, creepy close-up to a meticulously laid out miniature train set, and exquisite paper puppetry, all enhancing the telling brilliantly. A simple soundscape brings continuity to what might otherwise be distance, in that strange, online disconnect Zoom can bring.
There are many clever things about this show, often really simple but masterfully effective. It uses an age old format to comment incisively on modern society’s continuing cruelties, prejudices and abuses of authority. The tale of Hansel and Gretel, performed largely from the confines of a box by Annabelle Terry, becomes weirdly realistic as her story slips between third and first person, making it almost documentary. In The Juniper Tree, Graeme Rose speaks in a magnificent Midlands accent, which for me places his gruesome tale dead in the middle of normality. It’s not a fancy, storyteller’s voice – it could be the bloke next door, and these weird events come so much closer to possibility through that.
My particular favourite is Natasha Rickman’s rendition of Rumpelstiltskin, which again draws together contemporary and ancient, imagined and real, in a disturbing yet undeniably hilarious manner. A story of forced marriage, abduction and slavery, it’s made funny by trips to Waitrose and references to wallpaper. The madness and danger is piercingly accentuated by her unfaltering absurdity and sharp, witty delivery. Not to mention the freaky puppets.
The differing stories offer welcome texture and commentary to one another, each has its individual merits. However, shaving a few minutes off the running time would be no bad thing to tighten things up further: it’s so intense that after an hour my concentration is maxed out.
Living through a time of unforeseen tension and stress, as we are in the Covid crisis, it is such a release to escape from it all and be swept along in the all-consuming other-worldly Grimm Tales; to throw madness up in the air and let it all go, from the safe space of a Zoom call. The show ends by reminding us “Let your candle burn bright, you are not alone”, and indeed huddling round the candle for these chilling tales there’s a strong sense of being emotionally engaged together in this peculiarly immersive experience. You might though want to invite a friend to hold your hand whilst you watch.
Written and Devised by: Creation Theatre Repertory Theatre
Directed by: Gari Jones
Set and Costume Design by: Ryan Dawson Laight
Production Manager: Giles Stoakley
Produced by: Creation Theatre
Grimm Tales for Fragile Times and Broken People has a recommended age suitablility of 12+. The show is live on various evenings at 8pm until 13 March, check Creation Theatre’s website for full dates and times plus booking information.