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Review Round-up: Kneehigh Bring Wild Bride to Lyric

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Emma Rice’s Kneehigh production of The Wild Bride, an adaptation of the Grimm fairytale The Handless Maiden, opened earlier this week (12 September 2011, previews from 7 September) at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Known for their highly visual storytelling, showcased in productions such as The Red Shoes and Brief Encounter, Kneehigh Theatre present an energetic performance featuring only six actors, a set comprised of one large, gnarled tree, and blues music by Stu Barker.

A young girl (Audrey Brisson) sold to the devil (Stuart McLoughlin) by her father (Stuart Goodwin), sets out into the wilderness and becomes The Wild, (Patrycja Kujawska). She meets a prince, thus beginning an adventure of discovery, love, and heartbreak.

The Wild Bride continues until 24 September, as part of a national tour.

Michael Coveney

Emma Rice’s latest project is a lively and characteristically overloaded version of the Grimm fairytale … Kneehigh’s prancing prince is hilariously Scottish … So far so happy ever after, and the interval comes after sixty-five minutes of utterly beguiling, ingenious theatre. A midget puppet ‘war horse’ … is deprived of his eyes and tongue in exchange for red ribbons, but the story has becomes tangled and inert. Rice’s production is otherwise colourful, inventive and invigorating, always allowing for the tinge of story-telling tweeness you sometimes get with Kneehigh. The folksy music by Stu Barker … is as good as the choreography by Etta Murfitt, and it was not just the presence of Trevor Nunn in the front stalls that suggested Bill Mitchell’s freely conceived design … would be ideal for The Tempest.”

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

“I've been feeling slightly tired of Kneehigh's whimsy of late. This Cornish company, rightly praised for their playful ensemble storytelling … suddenly seemed ubiquitous. The problem is that their quirky style, if viewed too often, can become repetitive and irksome and after the decidedly qualified West End success of their recent adaptation of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, it appeared to be a good time for them to take stock. It's a pleasure, then, to report that this latest show sees them back in fighting form. … Emma Rice has wisely opted for the less-is-more approach, to remind us why we fell for Kneehigh in the first place. It's a powerful, downbeat narrative, strongly underscored by striking blues-inflected music (top marks to Stu Barker) and expressive choreography (likewise to Etta Murfitt). The men, malevolent or not, love the sound of their own voices; the women say next to nothing, but convey a stirring sense of resilience that melts occasionally into love.”

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

“Mittel European fairy stories may be tolerable as short stories, if your taste runs to that sort of thing. When turned into two-hour theatrical performances, they may become stodgy. Death by allegory. Grim. Or Grimm. … Emma Rice gives the tale numerous imaginative touches and British wit. Sparky music, from blues to gypsy violining, is played almost throughout. Look out for Patrycja Kujawska, who has something of the young Angela Rippon about her. Stuart McLoughlin makes a laid-back Devil. Stuart Goodwin … chats to the audience. I do believe we have a little Brechtian alienation thing going on. It’s a busy, busy show. Add some word-free, dooby-doo, Cirque du Soleil-style singing, and you are well on the way to an internationalised, homogenised product which probably has enough fey tricks and turns to impress 30-something metropolitans. But I’m afraid I was less gripped. The staging is messy – the character of the girl keeps being handed to different actresses – and the mish-mash of cultures is soupy. One moment we’re in Ireland, next Hungary, now Scotland. … And the characterisation is so allegorical we never care for the humans portrayed. Just that puppet deer.”

Ian Shuttleworth
Financial Times

" … adapter and director Emma Rice and writer Carl Grose present a version of The Girl Without Hands, the Grimm brothers’ tale no. 31… The music Stu Barker weaves through the tale is a kind of junk blues; when you open with a slide-guitar number set at a crossroads, you are ineluctably in the musical territory of Robert Johnson and the narrative constituency of infernal deals. Musician Ian Ross augments the cast of five: Stuart McLoughlin as the Devil, Stuart Goodwin as the father and the prince and Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar who play the central figure at successive points in her tale. The oddity is that this 'feminist folk tale' has a central character who finally speaks her first words six minutes before the end of the two-hour show – and those words are not her own but a reading from the book of her story. This is a version that is by turns grotesque and majestic, which repeatedly cartoons itself yet finds a deeper truth in that caricaturing. It bears the Kneehigh trademark on all moving parts."

Lyn Gardner


"Things are Grimm and then get grimmer for the heroine of this show from Kneehigh, a rackety fairytale shot through with the blues, an insouciant sauciness, and the pain and pleasure involved in managing to survive … By using the later Brothers Grimm take on the story, director Emma Rice and her brilliant team of actor-musicians shirk all the ancient, darker versions of the story, in which it is the father's incestuous desire for his daughter that leads to her maiming. But this is still no sanitised Disneyfication: Bambi even gets his eyes gouged out. Rice drags the story into the 21st century, in fact, offering a heroine wandering the wilds like a desolate landmine victim, urged on by two other all-singing, all-dancing versions of herself in the most defiant display of survivor-hood since Gloria Gaynor. Happy ever after with a damaged, kilt-wearing prince comes at a high price here. The intensity is sometimes diluted by a little too much padding and exuberant high-jinx, but this is a show not just to be seen but also to be felt, and which leads both heroine and audience into the dark woods of the unconscious and sets us free."

- Katherine Graham


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