Grimm Tales

Duffyphile EMMA ROBERTS withholds the laurels for an unfortunately limp rendition of some fairy tales. They’re freshers but not THAT young.

ADC, 16th-19th November, 11pm, £4-5

Directed by Richard Braham

[rating: 2/5]

‘Twisted fairy-tales’ is a trope that has been exploited ad nauseam in print, stage and screen, but I was buzzing about the fresher’s ADC lateshow. This was because poet laureate and honorary Homertonian Carol Ann Duffy is responsible for this particular adaptation of the Grimm Brothers’ classic childhood yarns.

Famed for couplets as shit provocative as: ‘I bought a poisoned goose from a crook (sick, whiffing) / This foul goose laid Nick Griffin’ (my personal favourite), I was looking forward to an evening of dystopian Duffy tales for the happy-slapping generation.

I wanted Goldilocks set on melting ice-caps. Snow White complicated by nuclear warfare. Cinderella on ‘miaow-miaow’. Duffy’s name on the poster had given me high hopes for unintentional hilarity. The last thing I was prepared for was predictability.

But predictable is exactly what this production was – predictable, tame and underwhelming. Forget any of Duffy’s previous work; where was the ‘twisted dark humour’ promised to me on the ADC’s promotional material? Where was the influence of the Brothers Grimm, and their notoriously nasty narratives? Hackneyed ‘fairy-tale gone wrong’ may be difficult to bear, but I would have taken it over these Bowdlerised, sentimental renderings any day. Full of Disneyfied, cliché-ridden prose (‘their faces were as lovely as roses, but their hearts were as ugly as thorns’) and two-dimensional stock characters (Sweet kids! Witchy witches! Bumbling West-Country tradesmen!), these were not adaptations but rather regurgitations. And of all the most boring, well-known bits at that.

I’m not seriously suggesting that Cinderella should’ve been tripping balls (am I?), but these stories needed some sort of edge. And I realise that unlike her adult-themed poetry, Duffy had children in mind when writing this. But she didn’t have to make it as bland as a toast sandwich.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to stage this in Cambridge in the first place. Apart from it being primarily aimed at children, the play offers no meaty parts for hungry freshers to sink their teeth into. The cast zealously multiroled, tackling all the different characters’ voices and physicalities with aplomb, but there is only so much emotional gravitas you can bestow on an Evil Stepmother. The actors tried their best to be as entertaining as possible with the stories, and had I been sitting in a school assembly watching this at the right age, I would have been drooling with delight. But the real humour for last night’s jaded audience lay in the cast’s cheeky ad-libs (and a number of embarrassing prop failures).

This brings me nicely onto the design. Which, if I’m persevering with honesty, was a bit of a train wreck. An attempt at minimalism was made with the only piece of set being a multipurpose giant canvas circle. Unfortunately, the very conspicuous pulleys and scaffolding and the noticeable trouble the actors had trying to manoeuvre it somewhat detracted from this vision of simplicity. Various props and instruments cluttered the stage, and watching the actors trip over mic stands and struggle to find their next prop was sloppy and distracting. An ambitious mixture of organic and recorded sound effects resulted in some spine-tingling moments, and some very obvious cock-ups.

Everything did pick up noticeably in the eleventh hour. The last tale regaled, that of Aschenputtel (think Cinderella in lederhosen), was imaginatively conceived with a fragile-looking puppet, some very affecting harp-playing, moody spotlighting, and, at last, some real gore (and a flash of black humour). Another notable moment was Gretel pushing the Witch into the oven. Piercing screams, glaring crimson light and a rumbling didgeridoo (I know, RANDOM!) combined to assault the senses and mark the horror of an event often brushed over in other retellings of the tale. If only there could have been more instances in the production that sensitively re-imagined, instead of dutifully re-told.

Fairy tales are part of our collective heritage. We all know them. If we are going to be told them again, we need to be made to see them in a way we haven’t before. Otherwise we will lose patience. This production, while advertised as a Gothic reinterpretation, fails to put the ‘vamp’ in ‘revamp’; but does put the ‘there was some nice new acting talent on-stage’ at the end of my review.

  • Nick Harris

    Completely disagree. I saw this last night after having done Tartuffe and I was shattered. None the less, the chaotic, light hearted nature of the play was spot on i feel. No one, unless they're cold hearted and slightly sick in the head, wants to go and see an overly dark and disturbing play at 11pm, they want fun, they want energy. For a play with a small budget, i thought that the set was perfect, i saw no trouble with it whatsoever. Both brilliant use of musical instruments/inanimate objects served only to highlight the creativity of the cast and crew and credit to all the actors for dealing with the minor mishaps. The whole thing was charismatic, engaging and unpretentious, an imaginative and thoughtful piece of late night theatre.
    Finally, what is it with Tab reviewers that they seem to go out of their way to see plays that, as a reader i can infer, you wouldn't have liked in the first place? sort it out Tab, you're taking yourselves far too seriously.

    • sick

      feel free to defend the show, but I find the whole 'no one, unless they're cold hearted and slightly sick in the head, wants to go and see an overly dark and disturbing play at 11pm' actually offensive – thanks for basically branding those of us who've been to productions of 4.48 Psychosis/DNA/Pornography etc as sick, heartless bastards

      • Nick Harris

        sorry, that was actually a joke… but it could be true…

        • Agreed with "sick"

          Although many people feel that comedies and sketch shows or stand-up are best suited to an 11pm time slot, the point of the ADC late show is to allow often ambitious and quirky plays that aren't necessarily as commercially viable in an obvious way to be put on. Sometimes they're light-hearted and sometimes they are in fact dark and disturbing. The fact that we managed to sell out two nights of "Pornography" last year shows that people don't have to be sick in the head to see something challenging at 11pm

          I don't disagree with anything else in your comment, I happen to share your opinion on Grimm Tales and you seem like a fair enough guy but since you're a fresher and may not have seen that many of them, I'd wait until I'd seen a few more late shows before passing judgment on people who go along to see "dark and disturbing" and often interesting plays at 11pm.

    • "Tab Reviewers"

      Just to let you know, not all Tab reviewers fit the criticism you've made of them as you'll see if you read a few more reviews for shows other than the Freshers' shows. In fact Tab has a fair share of really brilliant reviewers and to an extent you should allow reviewers to complain if a show didn't live up to expectations

      • Nick Harris

        I take the 'sick' comments – really, i'm a stupidly sarcastic person so that really was only a joke. However, lots of the reviewers i feel are being overly subjective – its about whether the show lives up to THEIR expectations and they seem to ignore the reaction of the audience as a whole.
        Otherwise, i look forward to seeing more late shows.

  • Rachel C-P

    I am completely baffled by this. You've completely missed the point of the show, which was a stripped back, group story-telling vibe, after a few drinks on a cold winter night – it was not a high budget, all singing, all dancing, complete redefining of what a fairy tale should be. Having watched the show last night – yes, that's right, the same show you watched – I cannot believe what I am reading. Perhaps the Tab should source out some reviewers with a sense of humour – we would want to stage this play in Cambridge because ITS FUN. Perhaps that's an alien concept to a Tab theatre reviewer; the review of Tartuffe also shows a distinct lack of being able JUST LIGHTEN UP A BIT. Seriously guys, give us a smile. Every member of the audience last night certainly did.

  • James Swanton

    This was the best show I've seen this term. Given that I wrote the blurb six months ago, it's natural that it doesn't reflect the production. These freshers have done something a whole lot *better* than the blurb. Everyone should go and see it for themselves.

  • seen it all before

    nothing like a slightly critical freshers' show review to bring a new generation of arsey commenters out of the woodwork

    • To be fair…

      …they've got a point – this really was an excellent show.

    • Good Point

      Kind of funny to see the masses of comments by people leaping to defend the shows in a way that you never see with other shows. Loving the way so many of the commenters are pointing out that the brilliant Varsity gave the shows five stars as if they're an unchallengeable benchmark when a couple of plays down the line they'll realise that's not the case and each paper is equally fallible just as much as each paper has its good reviewers.

      Understandable though because in the case of a majority of freshers this is the first time they will have received impartial reviews.

    • Actually

      *Nothing like a Tab article

  • Katharine

    I would refer anybody who really wants to know what this show was like to Varsity's review of it.

    I'm not convinced such facile inventions as 'Goldilocks set on melting ice-caps' and 'Snow White complicated by nuclear warfare', staggeringly original and creative as those sound, wouldn't have been entirely detrimental to the performance. Perhaps birds pecking the eyes out of the ugly step-sisters or gold-shitting donkey are too Disney! God! I hated those bits in the movies! Did you consider that rather than trying to bring the Grim Tales into the 21st Century, this production aims to restore to folk lore what may have been stripped away from it by the commercial enterprises of Disney and co.?

    • I think

      …you missed the point.

      • Try sgsin..

        No, you did. :L
        Re-read it with your sarcastic hat on.

  • 5 Star

    5-star all the way. The fact the audience around me tonight were cackling with laughter throughout, except for an enchanting puppetry scene which had the girl in front of me crying, showed as much.

    I feel the problem here is that the reviewer has judged the play based on how it conformed with their preconceived notion of how the play should be staged, rather than on its actual merits on the night. For shame!

  • Steve

    "I’m not sure why anyone would want to stage this in Cambridge in the first place. Apart from it being primarily aimed at children, the play offers no meaty parts for hungry freshers to sink their teeth into. The cast zealously multiroled, tackling all the different characters’ voices and physicalities with aplomb, but there is only so much emotional gravitas you can bestow on an Evil Stepmother."

    I think this is the extract that displays the greatest misunderstanding…

    This show is worth 5 stars. Highly recommended – please go and see it.

  • Fred Maynard

    I've already had my say in my Varsity review, but I would like to add one thing – I agree with Emma that the promotional material was way off target. The cast and crew said as much to me after the show. I still respectfully think Emma was wrong to factor that into her review, since I think you should review without preconceptions, but still, I'm a bit annoyed that it was sold as something it wasn't. James says above that he wrote the blurb way before the play was put together, and that they made something better, which is good of him to admit, but is there no better way of co-ordinating publicity for Fresher's shows? Something to think about next year, maybe.

    • James Swanton

      Publicity is given over to the fresher teams in Michaelmas. I think their posters and flyers are an excellent reflection of the show. But the fact that the theatre requires text for the brochure before the summer is limiting, to say the least. (Where, for example, was the 'live music and physical theatre' in Antigone?) I stand by the blurb as a reflection of the Grimm Tales script. It might not be as wilfully disturbing as Angela Carter, but it is packed with dark humour and nightmarish incidents. (I didn't choose the picture, and I'll agree that it doesn't reflect the show.)

      Is there an alternative? Yes: to leave the freshers' shows out of the brochure. A much greater publicity misfire. To 'review without preconceptions' is always important – but especially so given the strange and tenuous process by which the freshers' shows come together.

      • Emma Roberts

        I get your point about publicity. It did have some role in my disappointment. If you booked tickets to see a production of Lear set underwater, you
        would probably feel a bit confused and cheated if the action turned out to take place entirely by a poolside.

        However, regardless of publicity, I still would not have liked the show. Maybe I have a very reticent 'inner child', but I found it difficult to enjoy the retelling of stories I already knew in a way which, for me, was obvious and ordinary.

        I am glad others enjoyed themselves.

  • B.Lad

    I give your shit review 2 stars.
    Went to see this tonight, and it was fantastic. Well done on a great show guys – the audience absolutely loved it.

  • B.Lad is top value

    the above.