• Catherine Flutsch

Grimm Tales for Fragile Times & Broken People

★★★★★

Review: Creation Theatre, via live Zoom call, 28 January – 14 February 2021, book here.

[Disclosure of Interest: I am thrilled to be a Trustee of Creation Theatre company, so no doubt, I am biased. I want to share my love of great theatre, so I've done my best to write a review that gives you the information you need to decide whether to see the show.]

Oxford’s only professional theatre company, Creation Theatre, has put together a beautiful, heart-breaking, tragic and scary live Zoom theatre show based on Grimm’s fairy tales. The show features 5 actors, each in different locations, showing their version of a Grimm, and decidedly grim, fairy tale. The fairy tales presented are Hansel and Gretel, God Father Death, The Juniper Tree, Rumpelstiltskin and The Moon.

Oxford has a particular relationship with fantasy writing with many of the world’s best writers having either lived in Oxford or been inspired by it. In 2012, Philip Pullman, Oxford’s leading living fantasy writer, published a new version of his chosen tales to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first Grimm tales publication. It feels like a continuation of that relationship that all of the tales presented in Creation Theatre’s show can be found in Pullman’s collection.

Creation Theatre’s telling of these tales, via Zoom call, is astonishingly beautiful and very creepy. After a number of shows that push the boundaries of Zoom technology to the limit with clever interactive game theatre and AI characters, it feels like Creation has come home, with a show based on a virtuoso presentation of a classic text.

The show begins with Graeme Rose’s telling of the Juniper Tree and cuts to different actors on their own sets, to splice the stories together smoothly. The sets and costumes are extraordinarily beautiful – the best I have seen for a long time. In fact, they are so beautiful that they reminded me of a dark version of Christian Dior’s Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 haute couture collection film, by Matteo Garrone – a film telling a, “story woven from…many tales, passions and curiosities…”.

Still from Christian Dior's Autumn Winter 2020-2021 film

It is not often that a regional theatre production’s set design and costumes compete in creativity with the world’s best fashion designers!

In the show, each actor evokes the dark heart of the original Grimm tale very effectively. However, I think two actors, Annabelle Terry and Natasha Rickman stood out with dazzling portrayals of Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin, respectively. Terry, sometimes the witch, sometimes the little girl – presented Hansel and Gretel in such a claustrophobic, unsettling and horrifically gorgeous performance that it left me breathless. Rickman’s portrayal of Rumpelstiltskin with two, slightly deformed, puppets was extremely disconcerting – which is as it should be for such a troubling story.

The music, a simple and unnerving piano solo overlaying tension inducing sound effects added to the disquiet and, at some points, the horror.

Grimm Tales for Fragile Times & Broken People is a beautiful, tragic, frightening and very unsettling virtuoso show from a company that has fearlessly led the way in providing live theatre during a horrific time.

Housekeeping: As you can tell from my review, this show is scary and unsettling. Creation Theatre’s age guide recommends 12+ but I would add that if you are feeling fragile and exhausted from life, then the pervasive theme of death running throughout the show may be too much for you. On the other hand, if you are the type of person to take comfort from the fact that others can understand the grim horror of life, then you may well be comforted by this dark telling. Only you know what type of person you are – but I felt I should include this strong warning.

If you want to read more about Oxford and the magic that resides in it, then you can read my post here.

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