Fourth Monkey have hit on something interesting with their quartet of Grimm’s fairy tales. The stories have experienced something of a revival recently due to their regularly gruesome content, despite having been passed over a children’s stories in the past. Of course many have become popular in spruced up and slightly sanitised form — Little Red Cap is one such tale, something which has made it quite arguably the most well-known, and potentially the hardest to tackle, of the entire Brothers Grimm canon. But Fourth Monkey carry it off with aplomb. Imagination might have been better served had they given us one of the many hundreds of Grimm’s tales that aren’t, and probably deserve to be, more well-known; rather than readapting a tale which has been dreamt up into so many different reconfigurations already. However, the narrative is treated extremely well, and Little Red Cap plays upon what all the best fairy tales are about: our fears.
The production is bleak, bare and dark; crucially it takes a few steps beyond the slightly tired ‘dark side’ of the narrative often played out, the idea that the tale is primarily one of sexual awakening and that the wolf represents Little Red Cap’s loss of innocence. The play does work off this a lot, but the most intriguing and influential moments come from the inter-generational questions posed. We are given two parallel storylines, and the traditional tale is mirrored by a contemporary equivalent set in a nursing home. This dual storytelling helps to unearth themes not only of sexual awakening and the question of virginity, but also generational questions about innocence, helplessness, victimhood and control. It’s reflected in three generations of women: mother, grandmother and daughter, and the nursing home seems to bring us full circle, back to the idea of innocence and the idea of virginity being something as much mental as it is physical, for clearly we face as much fear of victimhood in our old age as we do in our youth. This balance between the two stories is maintained by strong individual performances; Daniel Timoney’s wolf is to be particularly commended for the silver-tongued seduction and physicality it brings to the stage.
The chalk-faced chorus are also used effectively, particularly in the transition back and forth between the two parallel stories. One particularly beautiful and striking moment occurs when their red gloved hands become the flowers which lead Little Red Cap astray, before the actors transition seamlessly into a brutally cold scene of a seduction over a comatose body and the hiss of a life-support machine. Though it is occasionally unclear why the chorus are left onstage, crouching under a table or beside a bed, they are also crucial in maintaining the flow of the piece and work very well to fill such an empty space. The play is well-devised, well-acted and makes use of minimal set to create a slick, engaging and insightful commentary on the nature of innocence.
Fourth Monkey’s Grimm Tales: Little Red Cap played theSpace @ Niddry Street as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, see the Fringe website.