Natalie Bolderston

‘Grimms’ Tales’ – A Review

Being a fan of anything vaguely macabre (or just plain weird), I couldn’t pass up the chance to see LUDS’ (Liverpool University Drama Society’s) rendition of Grimms’ Tales. The evening promised blood, wolves, witches and gingerbread houses. And I couldn’t wait.

Based on the 1996 stage adaptation by Carol Ann Duffy, Grimms’ Tales is a wonderful revival of those creepy pre-Disney fairytales that have inspired so many nightmares. LUDS handled them all superbly; before the play even started, the air of fear and darkness was well-established. Growling forest creatures holding lanterns ran amok through the audience. Already, the deep, dark woods were centre stage, represented by a floor of scattered bark. The theatre-in-the-round setup made it clear that – no matter what horrors were about to be paraded before us – there would be nowhere to hide.

The play’s first tale – ‘Hansel and Gretel’ – was brought to life by a rather burly Hansel (Catherine Fahy) and an explosively weepy Gretel (Helena Morais). Jen Shaw played a convincingly venomous mother, and an equally sinister wicked witch. Her death-by-fire screaming was every bit as horrifying as I’d hoped. Of course, both Hansel and Gretel were ultimately reunited with their gentle, Yorkshire-steeped father (played by Katie Moncaster – who also made a great oven door).

Another highlight was the little-known ‘The Magic Table, The Golden Donkey, and The Cudgel in the Sack.’ Grimms’ Tales’ beautiful drag queen narrator (Daniel Murphy) reluctantly took on the role of an old tailor’s prized goat. Her cunning lies (yes, the goat can talk) drive the tailor’s three sons away, who each seek their fortune as a joiner, a miller, and a turner. In true fairytale tradition, each are presented with magical gifts for their pains: a table that conjures food, a gold-crapping donkey (another hilarious performance by Murphy), and a cudgel that will ward off any potential attackers. After a wily, moustache-twiddling innkeeper (hammed up to perfection by Fahy) steals both the table and the donkey, it’s up to the third son and his mighty cudgel to save the day… Much frivolity and phallic humour ensued.

‘Cinderella’ – or, in this case, ‘Ashputtel’ – kept all the gore of the original tale. The room was filled with blood-curdling screams as the stepsisters mutilated their feet to fit the infamous lost slipper (and then had their eyes pecked out by birds). The horror continued as the stepmother danced herself to death in red hot iron shoes (a chillingly good performance from Moncaster) in ‘Snow White’. Speaking of bloodbaths, I was also a big fan of ‘Little Red Cap.’ Morais put on a wonderfully snarling, scrambling, raspy performance as the Big Bad Wolf, and Moncaster made a suitably dynamic, brooding woodcutter – the hero who delivers both Red Cap and her grandmother from the belly of the beast.

The play’s  minimalism is also something which should be commended. With limited props and no costumes (except for when it was time for the narrator to swap one glamorous dress for another), the cast still managed to make every tale as vivid and creepy as I’d hoped. The lighting was also perfectly executed. The crew not only created atmosphere using colour (red, green etc.), but also through their use of strobe. Let me tell you, a frenzied, bleeding wolf looks all the scarier under flashing lights (especially after Morais’ well-timed jump scare…)

Grimms’ Tales was a role-swapping, accent-morphing, spine-chilling sensation. What’s more, the performance was a shining example of the level of surprise, intrigue and creativity that LUDS weave into their productions – shows that everyone is sure to love.

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