Am I no longer privy to the magic of the mundane? While the children which scatter the front rows are happily laughing along, calling out and interacting with the actors onstage, I am left feeling unsatisfied as the next chapter of The Brothers Grimm’s stories unfurl before me. Being brought up with fairytales, gruesome stories of cut off toes and haggard old witches, I was excited at the prospect of seeing Philip Wilson’s adaptation of multi-award-winning novelist Philip Pullman’s horrifying Grimm Tales. While this performance does feature classic fairytale tropes like heads being chopped off, unruly stepmothers and magical happily ever-afters – Pullman’s magic doesn’t quite shine through.
I’m left questioning whether I, at twenty-one, am too old to appreciate fairy tales on stage, although this should not be the case. This production does not seem to be made for the likes of me, regardless of its generously suggested ‘eight to adult’ age range. The storytelling, although telling children’s stories, is overly childish. The actors do simply read aloud, and Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales is quite literally read to us while the other actors, and frequently the narrator themselves, partake in carrying out the accompanying scenes. It doesn’t have the extra element of magic which is usually so brilliantly created by the telling and retelling of fairy tales, regardless of the impressive folding set and cleverly timed lighting and smoke shows.
This production is obviously geared towards a young school-aged audience. But I feel as though they should do more to include the older members of the audience, beyond a few funny jokes about the need to drink wine in order to deal with the rampant, midnight-dwelling children. We too deserve our own glimpse at the magic which overflowed throughout our own childhoods. Our pleasure in watching cannot simply come from the happiness it instils in children.
That said, the impression this production will leave on the younger audience must be celebrated. With an extremely diverse cast, including multiple members being of colour and with disabilities, I believe one would find it hard not to find themselves reflected onstage. Indeed, the traditionally forbidden romance between servant girl and royalty was one of same-sex love. Fairytales have the ability to support and foster a child’s imagination and this performance cannot be faltered for its diversity and its inevitably positive effect on multiple young minds.
Yet, I didn’t fall in love with these tales. Their delivery isn’t enough to whisk me away into my own dreams. The actors, although obviously passionate and enjoying themselves as much as the children in the stands, do not convince me of their parts. And the light-hearted wittiness and obvious cruelty which runs throughout Brothers Grimm’s tales is reduced to unsatisfying and simple comedy.
Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales is playing the Unicorn Theatre until the 6th January 2019. For more information and tickets, click here.