Southbank Centre, London – until 6 January 2019
Bright and cheerful, the UK premiere of the Windmill Theatre Company and State Theatre Company’s production is playful but doesn’t tell the story as well as it could.
Christmas time is the perfect time for a fairy tale – a time when we all believe in magic and hearing about extraordinary creatures which is why I was looking forward to this particular production of Rumpelstiltskin – unfortunately, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
It is a real shame as I really loved the whole concept of the modernisation of the story with its references to Instagram and the story being set in the world of fashion as well as Chris Edser’s wonderful animations and Jonathan Oxlade’s spiralling set design. But sadly somehow the story just doesn’t come across as it should if it wants to thoroughly entertain children.
This reimagining of the classic fairytale sees Harriet wishing she was rich and famous to prove to the children who were nasty to her at school that she is successful. Enter the mischievous Rumpelstiltskin who promises her she can have whatever she wants – as long as she gives him something that is precious to her.
The trouble is co-writers Rosemary Myers and Julianne O’Brien while managing to get the message that being greedy can lead to serious consequences across; they seem to be writing for two different audience ages that pulls the production in two different directions. While the age recommendation is eight plus, it feels the script in places is aimed at an even younger audience – particularly in terms of the humour which felt a little bit flat in places.
However, that isn’t to say that there are some elements that are delightful. Jonathan Oxlade’s wonderfully colourful and wacky costumes really heighten the production’s playfulness, while his set design makes the whole thing feel slightly like Alice in Wonderland with its psychedelic look that really comes to life with Chris Edser’s bold and fun animations that set the whole thing off perfectly.
Throughout it all, the cast give fully committed performances – even though the characterisations feel slightly over the top and can become slightly wearisome in places. This is not the fault of the cast – it is the way in which the characters have been written that makes it difficult for the audience to really engage or relate to them at all. Sheridan Harbridge as Harriet delivers plenty of sass and passion, yet is still able to generate sympathy for the character as she frantically searches for baby. Elsewhere, Paul Capsis makes for a cheeky but quietly menacing Rumpelstiltskin and Mitchell Butel is a wonderfully flamboyant Malcolm.
There is real potential with Rosemary Myers production but it needs to have a stronger storytelling ability as well as a clearer idea of who they want the production to be aimed at. Overall, it is a vibrant and fun production visually – just needs more substance to make it truly satisfying.
By Emma Clarendon
Rumpelstiltskin continues to play at the Southbank Centre until the 6th January 2019. To book tickets click here or visit: Encore Tickets, See Tickets, Love Theatre.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk or From the Box Office.