Fairy tales are currently appearing in theatres up and down the country; the British pantomime tradition takes popular fairy tales and dresses them up with men in drag, girls dressed as boys, slapstick, songs and the compulsory cries of ‘it’s behind you’. But if you like your fairy tales a little darker Grimm Tales at Manchester’s Library Theatre is the show for you.
Children’s bookshelves are often stuffed with sanitised versions of the Grimm’s tales, in which Grandma hides under the bed instead of being eaten by the wolf, and Gretel refrains from pushing the witch into the oven, but in adapting six of the Grimm’s tales for this production poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy didn’t shy away from all the harsh lessons and gory bits.
First performed at the Young Vic in 1994, and directed for the Library by Rachel O’ Riordan, eight actors gleefully tell the stories and take on the many parts. The show takes place in what looks like an abandoned nursery; a tree grows up through the floor and out of the ceiling, and the cast’s shadows play on the bare walls. Dance, physical theatre and traditional music are all incorporated with great energy and obvious enjoyment.
The tales performed include the familiar, like ‘Hansel and Gretel’; those you’ll know but perhaps not in this version, like ‘Ashputtel’, which is a Cinderella story; and those you probably won’t have heard before like ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage’.
The show is being promoted as being suitable for those aged six and upwards. If you’re taking children I wouldn’t be too worried about them being disturbed by the grimmer bits; when I watched the show the younger members of the audience seemed to be delighted by them – the only shrieks and squeals came whenever the actors kissed.
Grimm Tales is on at The Library Theatre, Manchester until 23rd January 2010.