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Grimm Tales (Manchester)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Old joke: ‘My marriage was a fairy tale – Grimm.’

The works of 19th century duo Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm are widely regarded as setting the template for the modern fairy tale: The German brothers collected existing myths and legends, and shaped them into something altogether darker. Academics and psychologists cite their work as holding up a mirror not only to our fears but also our dreams; grim but containing glints of gold.

The Library Theatre always deliver a welcome antidote to the contemporary panto; if C list celebs, soap stars and DJ’s in pantaloons are your bag, there’s nothing for you here. Director Rachel O’Riordan has selected seven Grimm stories for this, her second Library production, including Hansel and Gretel, The Golden Goose, and Ashputtel.

Most of these tales now exist in more sanitised forms - Ashputtel became Cinderella. Jacob and Wilhelm were obviously in favour of some sort of capital punishment system; in their version, the tale ends when the ugly sisters get their eyes pecked out. The Lady and the Lion is essentially Beauty and the Beast; here the brothers go of at some peculiar tangents, including a dragon princess – who has an affair with the lion/beast – and a magic egg (a gift from the moon!) out of which hatch 12 golden chicks. It’s safe to say they probably never attended Robert McKee’s ‘structure’ workshop.

The Library’s main selling point is the adaptation, courtesy of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and her treatment of the source material is fresh and engaging. But the real work is done by O’Riordan – talented, tall and, it has to be said, far too glamorous for a theatre director.

This is a production brimming with verve and invention. Rachael is ably assisted by the 8 strong cast; dressed as strolling gypsy players, they bring these stories to life through music, dance and intense physicality. Praise also to designer Gary McCann; his set is the best I have seen this year - a dilapidated child’s playroom with a forced perspective, magical mirror, and hidden trapdoors.

Critics tend to lower their expectations in December; a review appears superfluous when measured against the whoops of hyperactive children. That rule of thumb doesn’t apply in this case – as Grimm Tales is one of the productions of the year.

 - Steve Timms


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