It’s no secret that most of our fairytales were considerably weirder before Disney got their hands on them. Everything from Cinderella to the Pied Piper has been dipped in sugar and happily-ever-after-ed to go down more comfortably with the under 12s. But it’s not always been that way. Fourth Monkey’s Hansel and Gretel doesn’t only explore these weird origins, it screams them in your face. Literally.
I’m not sure if you could really still call this Hansel and Gretel. It’s rather a choppy, cut up, remixed version. The production ended up being predominantly a lesson in Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, narrated by a set of creepy twins. But even they don’t narrate the tale of ‘H and G’; rather giving us a crash course in Artaud’s life, which makes for a very broken up production.
Fair enough that we’re not meant to get Artaud. Fair enough that his theatre of cruelty accesses the dark crevecesses of human psychology. Fourth Monkey did explore this (rape, incest, you name it). But why the abundance of sweet embellished wrapping paper? Why the sexually promiscuous feline step-mother? Why the random interval about paedophile politicians?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Fourth Monkey worked off a Theatre of Cruelty tick-list. Unidentifiable animal noises? Check. Creepy children? Check. Screaming? Double check. Audiences just don’t get shocked by incessant screaming. Ok, sometimes it makes us jump, but then it’s just headache inducing. Want to shock people? Full frontal nudity. Check.
Where credit is due, they cut no corners. The aim is clearly to shock, and shock us they do. And the acting is not at fault here. Everything is horrifyingly believable, from the graphic abuse scenes to the feline features of the step-mother. Hansel and Gretel’s problems don’t lie with the performers, simply with the way it’s been composed.
A lot of the elements of this production were just unnecessary. It was barely 5 minutes in and we’d heard the C word and the F word from the creepy doll twins. Fourth Monkey know they’re being offensive, I’ll give them that. Our parting message is ‘if at the end we have offended… you’re welcome’. At least there was no fake blood.
Fourth Monkey’s Grimm Tales: Hansel and Gretel is playing at theSpace @ Niddry Street (Venue 9) until August 29. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.