Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
When the Guildford Shakespeare Company sets Grimm’s Fairy Tales for the theatre, you know you can expect something magical. And when it’s staged in an art nouveau travelling theatre space brought in from Belgium, ornate with stained glass and mirrored panels, it’s an experience not to be missed.
The round stage steams gently with mysterious vapours as five members of this award-winning company begin an evening of shift-shaping, wizardry and battles against monsters and evil sorcerers. Ant Stones, resident playwright and Head of Education in the GSC, has woven an ingenious play to carry eight of the traditional fairy stories that the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected into a best-selling book in 1812.
Wicked stepmothers, child-eating witches, princesses and talking animals stalk the stage. There’s lots of interaction with the audience, in fact at one point I almost shouted, “He’s behind yer! “ in true pantomime style. And when an elf looked me in the eye from the edge of the stage, and said, ”It’s not funny, you know”, I could only laugh harder!
The cast members become protagonists, victims and narrators by turns, at times alternating as all three within the same story. The pace is frenetic. Andy Owens’ balletic leaps to and from the space around the stage are spectacular. Amelia Zadarnowska is a charming little Gretel, always clamouring for a story to distract from life’s dangers.
Charlotte James is all the beautiful maidens, from Rapunzel to Briar Rose, to the haughty princess who wouldn’t kiss her frog (her Sloane drawl of “Yah, Daddy” is priceless in this last role!).
I loved Dominic Rye as the arrogant continental rooster who doesn’t intend to get eaten, as a Surrey student Knight (“on work experience”), and as the elf, standing in a hole with his shoes under his chin to reduce his height!
The star of the show is surely Rosie Strobel. Her wonderfully evil laugh, her ability to flounce with every inch of her body, and her strong and very beautiful singing voice are remarkable, whether she’s the big bad wolf, a cat who plays the tin whistle or a witch who eats little boys. Her stage presence, like her stunning wardrobe of richly textured cloaks, is hugely charismatic.
The show‘s on for three weeks, before the wonderful mirror tent is packed up and sent back to Belgium. And there’s magic in it every day.
Grimm's fairy tales will be showing at the mirror tent in Challenger's Field, Stoke Park, until October 28. To book tickets visit guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
This review has also been published on Essential Surrey Magazine's theatre page, with photos .
The story opens in the London flat of Ginny, a modern girl who is unashamedly enjoying her affair with young Greg (in 1967 rather a risqué scene). Greg is energetic, funny, full of banter and clearly an innocent compared to Ginny. It’s soon obvious that Ginny has a secret.
The scene moves to a manicured garden somewhere in the home counties where Philip and Sheila, an older couple, are struggling to communicate with each other. Their conversations about the quality of the breakfast marmalade and the weather are heavy with hidden meanings. The two story-lines soon collide.
Robert Powell’s Philip is a likeable but selfish husband, bored yet dependent on his wife. (I loved his jealous suspicions converted to an impassioned accusation that she’s “lost his garden hoe”!). Lisa Goddard as Sheila is absolutely charming, led open-mouthed into a fog of incomprehension. Her desperate ‘vamp-till-ready’ small-talk is a tribute to Alan Ayckbourn’s acute observation of verbal rituals and to her own impeccable sense of comic timing and stage-craft..
Lindsey Campbell’s dolly-bird Ginny is cute, smart and quick thinking, which makes the plot thicken when she’s cornered. Ginny and Greg have their own verbal rituals: banter turns to rows turns to erotic reconciliation, for these two love each other. Gauche Greg is no match for her cunning, of course. Antony Eden plays him for his youth and humour, optimism and child-like trust - the perfect foil for the machinations that go on around him. He's the only character without guile or secrets!
“Relatively Speaking” builds a comic situation on the gaps emerging in the sixties between the older generation and their children. It’s an ever more complex, fragile edifice of half-truths, lies and misunderstandings, a tangled web of deception spun by and among the characters: a continuous, hilarious riot of laughter. I felt for Robert Powell’s character Philip when he appealed to Sheila, ”Answer the question you’ve been asked and not the one you’ve made up in your head!”
The intricately constructed plot is like a machine in which every cog depends upon every other to drop into place in sequence. And at the end, there’s a cog left over and we laugh all the more! I never miss an Ayckbourn play if I can help it and this evening I realised why: Alan Ayckbourne is a comic genius and his plays are timeless.
I recommend the excellent programme's article by Al Senter (© John Good) for more background to the play.
A shorter version of this review with photos and links will be published by Essential Surrey online magazine.