Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A Scottish and German story-telling duo pick over some of the choicest morsels of fairy tales both grim and Grimm, serving them up with a smile and a suggestive wink, though not with quite as much spice as there needs to be.
If ever there was a show where a hotpot or a stew were an appropriate metaphor, then this is surely it. The two storytellers of Louna Productions, their curly hair apparently styled into thick devil horns, have picked a handful or so of stories from the Brothers Grimm and cooked them all up together. The result, like some stews, is lumpy and lacks a certain amount of flavour.
With their devil horns, corsets, suspenders and – beautifully, horrifically graphic – illustrative background posters, the performing duo are reminiscent of dark German forests. Red Riding Hood’s warning about straying from the path is almost a spectre at the feast, unspoken, unseen, but eerily present. One of those poster shows a naked woman tied to a tree, her limbs hacked off and her entrails hanging out – while a clothed woman chews ferociously on an arm. It’s merely the first instance of cannibalism in a show full of people eating other people and trying to eat other people.
These are Grimm fairy tales, but re-told for adults, by a company who aim to prove that your basic storytelling isn’t just suitable for children, but can entertain adults too. That said, there isn’t much here that you’d want to keep your twelve-year old away from (it’s maybe a bit strong for your eight-year old though). The stories being told, seven in total, are presented in their earlier versions, before Disney’s studios got hold of them and gave them happy endings. So there’s quite a lot of cannibalism, murder, child abuse and some wicked step-mothers (even the odd wicked mother).
With all that cannibalism, Lounda Productions has got the meat base covered, but what about the sauce? They’ve opted for a low-key, straightforward re-telling of stories, with minimal props, costume and characterisation. The pair bat the narrative one to the other, taking it in turns depending on which characters each is playing – and they do this for the hour. Having hit an apparently winning recipe, they repeat the pattern for the remaining six stories with little variation.
The flaws to this plan are partly the fault of the stories themselves. Simply re-telling the story with a bit of moving around highlights the fact that fairy tales and myths (including some parts of the Bible) rely on formulaic language that gets repeated fairly often – think ‘On the Xth day, the Lord made Y’, or, in this case, ‘It was done in this way’. That’s usually bearable when written, but when being spoken it’s dull, and here there are some whole paragraphs repeated.
Meanwhile, the characters aren’t as clear as they could be. Again, partly because fairy tales give you stock characters to work with (the wicked step-mother, the greedy king, the handsome prince). Our performers do manage to extract some humanity from some of them (the Maiden Without Hands and The Dead Woman are especially strong), but there’s only so much you can do.
But partly what’s also lacking here is some variety. Beef in a hotpot is nice, but you want some sauce and some veg, some different flavours. It feels like Lounda Productions have found a formula they’re happy with and don’t want to risk changing it, so there’s nothing new or daring about their story-telling, nor even different from story to story. That’s a shame, because these are talented performers with some dark subject matter and the artistic mission to delve into the darkness of children’s stories for adults. But they need to dig deeper and spice things up a bit.