Unicorn Theatre, London – until 6 January 2019
“Philip Pullman” is a name to live up to, and this production does so. Beginning in the Christmas Eve bedroom of three children, as their parents conclude a party downstairs, the narrative takes us further and further into the strange, ethereal world of fairy tales.
The children play dress up as they tell each stories of dark forests, treacherous kings and magical beasts. As the play proceeds, we leave the comfort of the children’s bedroom behind and venture out of the forest ourselves, and the tales become darker and more complex.
If there is a gap in this superb production (and perhaps this thought only arises from my own idiosyncratic approach) it is in the lack of context. The story of Hans My Hedgehog, for example, concludes with a twist that would confound Anton Chekhov, and part-way through visits on us a moral that should, by modern standards, be considered outrageous. Since the characters of the children emerge from time to time to discuss their own actions – their reluctance to go to bed and their ideas for dressing up – there is scope for the odd bit of editorialising from them.
Perhaps I am being overly particular though – certainly, the children who occupied the front few rows of the audience seemed delighted by the show, riding its rollercoaster of scares, laughs and moments of pathos.
The sets are first-rate, and in the second act especially they add to the atmosphere generated by a superb cast. The performers each take on a multitude of roles – sometimes with one character overlaying another. The Grimm Tales are well chosen, showing a good range of different archetypes and styles. The gore and grotesqueness of the original tales are not hidden, nor are the often surreal and unexplained twists in the plots.
In short, this is a fine Christmas show for all the family – but don’t be surprised if you have some questions to answer afterwards!