Review: Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales, Unicorn Theatre
5.0Overall Score

Award winning children’s theatre The Unicorn is one of the most stunning performance spaces in London, perfectly geared to engage and enthuse children of all ages in the performing arts. Presently, though, those spaces still sit empty. The theatrical forum of the pandemic is online performance, and this month Unicorn has taken a stab at breathing virtual life into some of our darkest bedtime stories.

This production is a theatrical reading of six short stories from a new adaptation of Grimms’ Fairy Tales by writer (and Unicorn ambassador) Philip Pullman. The stories that Unicorn have chosen are all deliciously Grimm, whilst creating a nice contrast from one another in their individual themes and messages. Bookended by the widely known Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella, most audiences (especially those of the intended age) will be unfamiliar the majority of the stories, such as The Devil With The Three Golden Hairs. Though each one is dark in nature (in-keeping with their original inspiration), this modern adaptation is full to the brim with comic moments and cryptic characters, all with a (fairly) happy ending, so perfectly suited to children and their families.

Each tale is delivered by a different artist and with a different director, who together imbue the text with the reality of the characters and the world. Creating vivid characters and larger than life drama, the direction also pays close attention to some of the more nuanced elements of the stories. Whilst each story is in keeping with the overall aesthetic and direction of the production, this use of multiple actors and directors allows each story to bring something new for the audience to enjoy or to dissect. It also allows the artist to bring something of themselves into the performance, whether that be their personality, culture or lifestyle; every performer seems to deliver with passion and creativity. Though maybe that is to be expected from such an all-star team of actors and directors.

The serial structure of the production also allows for audiences to dip in and out, enjoying one story at a time, or watching it as one complete piece, making it perfect for parents to deliver to their children.

The design (Charlotte Espiner) perfectly complements the dark brooding undertones of each performance. Each story is read from a little shed littered with bric-a-brac and creepy ornaments, a fireplace flickering, casting a dim light over the reader. The cinematography (Phil Cooper and Tom Wootton) follows perfectly, jumping between wide shots for the general narration, and closeups for individual characters or parenthesis, even using sharp angles to contrast between different characters. Bringing it all together is a stunning sound scape (Jon McLeod) which manages to apply tension, drama and even comedy at just the right times.

With Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales, Unicorn Theatre have managed to draw together a fantastic team of creatives and artists to deliver a thoroughly entertaining series of short stories, with a production quality that is quite honestly superb. What is more, in the creation of these performances, they have produced something which I feel is of great importance to the education of children. It provides entertainment, but it also inspires passion and creativity in a very simple form, promoting performance and storytelling. And all provided free of charge – how wonderful.

Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales is available to watch online for free until 21 February 2021. For more information and to watch, visit Unicorn Theatre Online.