Welsh children’s theatre company Theatr Iolo do a sterling job with this adaptation by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy of three of Grimm’s fairy tales. The well-known stories of Hansel and Gretel, Ashputtel and Snow White are brought vividly to life through a combination of simple staging, engaging storytelling and accompanying music.
The first tale, Hansel and Gretel, perhaps takes too long to get to the more interesting action. It is nevertheless a pleasing story of a heartless mother, an evil witch and two smart children who beat the odds to live happily ever after with their downtrodden but loving father. The kids in the audience enjoyed the smart tactics employed by Hansel and Gretel, and also the artful and quirky portrayal of a bird eating their trail of breadcrumbs.
Ashputtel, the original and darker tale on which Cinderella is based, is played with relish by the four actors. The mean stepsisters are reminiscent of schoolyard bullies, but of course we know the heroine will win the day in the end. Some lovely sound effects and simple costumes are very effective in creating the flap of birds’ wings and Ashputtel’s ballgown, but still leave enough space for a young viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps. A bit of (unseen) foot-slicing gore ensures this section of the show has it all.
In the final story, Snow White, Wiebke Acton makes a delightfully vain wicked queen against Ceri Elen’s naïve Snow White, whilst Cassandra Jane Bond and Elliot Quinn find plenty of humour as two comedic dwarves in woolly hats.
The simple set allows the cast’s storytelling to take centre stage, and some excellent atmospheric lighting helps to set the mood, being used to particularly successful effect in Hansel and Gretel.
Finally, some praise for The Polka Theatre itself; it is spacious, welcoming and entirely designed with children in mind, with play areas, a café and an excellent programme of shows. As for Grimm Tales, it’s not for the youngest kids or those of a very sensitive nature, but if your children enjoy a bit of a fright it’s well worth the trip to Wimbledon.