Tuesday, 18 December 2018

REVIEW: Rumpelstiltskin at the Southbank Centre

Following runs in Australia, this brave and bold retelling of the famous fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin is now at the Southbank Centre in London. Collaborating on this new production are Australian based theatre companies – Windmill Theatre Company and State Theatre Company SA, who reunite the creative team behind their acclaimed retelling of ‘Pinocchio’. Directed and co-written by Rosemary Myers along with co-writer Julianne O’Brien. 

This eccentric reimagining sees Rumpelstiltskin – born of human parents, but not one himself – develop magic powers and become a renowned fashion designer. Full of latin flair and camp humour, Rat (Alirio Zavarce) along with sharp-tongued, sharp-eyebrowed Crow (Elena Carapetis) accompany our villain along his way. Except, to the outside world, Rumpelstiltskin doesn’t exist. Instead Malcolm, played with guileless humour by Mitchell Butel, is paraded around as the “hoooot” face of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ fashion house. Finally, throw Harriet – our female protagonist – into the mix; bullied at school and now determined to make something of herself and prove her bullies wrong – at whatever cost. Here, Sheridan Harbridge offers a perfect blend of earnestness, compassion and a dollop of humour to complete our cast. 

Though it takes a little bit of time, once this new world is pieced together and we’ve been introduced to everyone, the real fun begins and the story comes to life. Rumpelstiltskin appears to the girl, Harriet, keen to exploit her vulnerability and desire for success. He offers to help her, in exchange, of course, for certain things in return. And they must be things that mean something. A subtle, dressed up allegory echoes with an eerie foreboding some of the revelatory stories from the past few years. Though not specifically the purpose of the piece – after all it is a family show – it is a starkly topical time for this story to resurface in such an imaginative way.

As the stories goes, Rumpelstiltskin steals her baby – amusingly portrayed by the largest member of the ensemble, Ezra Juanta. Iconic and pivotal throughout was Paul Capsis’s Rumpelstiltskin; a delectable mix of sassy drag queen, dictatorial cartoon character, mischievous school girl and extravagant panto villain. But at the heart of his plight, was a true story of pathos which Capsis shows us with heart in yet another chameleonic light. 

Music is used throughout the piece and plays a joyful and vital part in the proceedings. Quite how often it moves the plot along is perhaps debatable, but it is undoubtedly entertaining and a fundamental aspect to a show like this. 

The story itself is clear, and children will no doubt follow it but there are some fairly challenging moments in the script; it certainly doesn’t pander to a younger audience and spell everything out in a simplistic way. But that’s quite refreshing for a family show – and it makes it equally as appealing for adults too. Certain contemporary, real-world references are peppered throughout - ‘hashtag’, ‘90210’, ‘instagram’ – but are not consistent enough to make them feel normal in the world of the play.

It is, however, the design which sets this production above everything else. Jonathon Oxlade’s design, constructed with four grand arcs, each diminishing inward, create the effect of a tunnel. Indeed, as the familiar “once upon a time” rings round the auditorium at the beginning of the show, the words appear written around the outer circle and slip round as if falling slowly away and with them, we descend into this crazy world of colour and mayhem. Accentuated by Gavin Norris’s fabulous lighting design and quite literally brought to life by Chris Edser’s projections – which may well be the finest I’ve ever seen – this show is nothing if not a visual feast to be gorged alongside the special effects, larger than life performances and eclectic mix of music. 

Review by Chester Clark

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: K20 | Price of Ticket: £40
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