Grimm Tales for Young & Old
Grimm Tales for Young & Old
by Philip Pullman
adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson.
Original music by Paul Grimwood,
with lyrics by Gill Daly.
It was performed in June 2018
in the gardens of Bell House.
Story Tellers, Singers and Musicians
SINGERS & SHAKERS
Make up and hair
Front of House
Catalina Ribas Pearce
Tip: Click to expand the photos
Review by Mike Foster
If you’ll pardon the pun, fairy tales have always held a grim fascination for me. I could never work out why such bloody plots were played out in front of children. Why, I wondered, should they be told of cannibalism (Hansel & Gretel) and wolficide (Red Riding Hood)? In fact, children needed to grow up quickly, a long, long, time ago. They did not lead a sheltered life, as they do today. Life was nasty, brutish and cruel, so the young ‘uns had to learn to lump it.
So children and adults sat together as they listened to stories about witches, kings, princesses, murder and talking animals, as the sun set at the end of a day’s work and the tallow burned low. As author John Updike pointed out, there wasn’t any pornography or television in those days. All you had were stories to stave off the gloom of surrounding woodland Awful things happened in the tales - and quite possibly in the woods. But these tales also had a sense of morality which showed things would come right in the end, as evil was vanquished. With any luck, your favourite characters would live happily – if not forever at least for a decent period of time.
In 1812 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm of Germany pulled together a series of fairy tales cleaned them up (a bit) and published the collected work as Childrens and Household Tales. Two centuries later, they were retold by author Philip Pullman and adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson. Six of them were enacted by the Dulwich Players this midsummer (2018) in the gardens of Bell House. The Players, to their credit, did not pull their punches as children and adults endured unspeakable acts. But all was put right in the end, and a sense of levity in each play relieved the tension.
The long-suffering Dave Russell-Smith distinguished himself by unknowingly eating his child in a stew (The Juniper Tree), enduring being blinded by a thorn bush, (Rapunzel) and attempting to commit incest with his daughter (Thousandfurs). Despite all this he played each role with gusto: Quentin Tarantino could not have asked for more. Indeed, the whole cast doubled, tripled and quadrupled their roles, both within the same play and across the collection of six. Philippa Watts, initially playing Rapunzel with great energy and charm played at least five roles (complete with different accents) in both Juniper Tree and Faithful Johannes, Gill Daly stepped forward five different ways in Thousandfurs, as did Juliet Benning and Yohann Philip, both showing similar feats of versatility with Louise Norman winning the record for six roles in one play!
The evening started with Rapunzel, probably the most familiar tale of the six, and was played with great energy and charm throughout, with Louise Norman excelling as the wicked witch, who took away the child of her neighbours at birth. Not willing to submit to this fate, Paul Sykes and Emily Lamm upstaged themselves by playing the role of their own grandchildren, on their knees. A glory to behold: particularly Paul in a cap.
Another of my favourite characters was Hans-my-Hedgehog (Juliet Benning) - half man half hedgehog - ostracised by his father (Paul Sykes) but eventually reborn through marriage to a princess, Lucinda Lane, who was later was threatened with incest in Thousandfurs, and responded magnificently. And let’s not forget Faithful Johannes, played with manly charm by Gill Daly, chastising the young king played with great effectiveness by Yohann Philip.
If you are confused by all this chopping and changing - and one or two of the plays were pretty weird - it doesn’t matter. Words do not do them justice. The exuberance of each member of cast was infectious and carried the audience along with them on the literal and actual journey. And if you were still feeling uneasy about cannibalism and incest, there was plenty of light relief in the songs which linked each play performed by an ensemble of Singers&Shakers who also took responsibility for the many costume and prop changes onstage, with the Grimm Unplugged trio of musicians taking on the role of wandering minstrels. The beautiful music was composed by keyboardist Paul Grim(m)wood with lyrics, written for each of the plays, by the ever-versatile Gill Daly.
The stage management team clearly had their work cut out with the inventiveness of their props (a rubber ring for a millstone; a scaffolding tower covered with a sheet for Rapunzel) and the wonderful costumes - thrown on and off at speed - were delivered by Judy Douglas. And of course no production would be complete without the indefatigable Denise Biffin performing her magic with make-up and hair. Jan Rae should take a well-deserved bow as director, taking a break from outdoor Shakespeare (and why not?). This promenade of plays around the gardens of Bell House was huge fun. Let’s hope the Players get to act there again.
Review by Matilde Powell-Sykes
I really liked going to Grimm Tales on Saturday afternoon. My friend and I sat at the front. My favourite princess was Rapunzel. And Thousandfurs was my favourite story We have the book at school but it is called The Runaway Princess. I also enjoyed the Three Snake Leaves and listening to all the songs. I liked my Daddy best in Rapunzel's father when he had to try and climb a wall which was too high.
Review by Louis Powell-Sykes
I was excited to see Grimm Tales on Saturday. I especially liked the second story because Daddy was the king and a pirate. I also liked the man who played the soldier.