Last week Kat and I managed to get tickets to see a performance of ‘Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales’ at Shoreditch Town Hall. I’ve had an active interest in the tellings and re-tellings of the cannon of European fairy tales for a long, long time; so this performance was an absolute treat.
We were given wristbands, and after a drink in the candle lit bar rather gothically decorated with ivy, we were led down to the basement of the building where the audience was divided into two groups, red and white. The depths of the building had been dressed in a suitably macabre and haunting fashion: the main staircase down was decked in lit white wedding gowns, bulbous like headless brides. We walked down a hall of mirrors to the first performance space, where a canopy of bulbs hung from the ceiling like tungsten stars. Two groups of performers told five stories from the Grimm’s canon across three spaces, starting with the more familiar stories, ‘Little Red Cap’ and ‘Rapunzel’; then progressing to darker, more bizarre and even twisted ones: ‘Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-My-Hedgehog’ and ‘The Juniper Tree’.
The dialogue embraced the history of the tales’ roots in oral storytelling tradition, and the performance further blended the mix of live theatre traditions, firmly playing on the suspension of disbelief in their use of props and costumes. (A baby is a sack, a hedgehog is a bristle shoe brush.) Indeed it was just as if in conversation, relaying a story, a friend grabs whatever is available and transforms it into their prop; anything becomes an embellishment to the story.
The sets design deeply underpinned all the nastiness inherent in the Grimm’s stories, even when interpretations of some of the tales were lighter than I might have expected (especially after having read so much Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson!). Also truly notable was the lighting design, which glistened and glowed in a pulse that exactly matched the rhythms of the storytelling.
No photos were allowed during the performance, but afterwards the audience was invited to wander around the site, which the ushers described as an installation. There we found much creepiness to delight in; Kat especially loved the glass coffin!
Sadly the run of ‘Grimm Tales’ has now finished, although tickets were pretty much sold out after their press night anyway!