Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"Dark times have befallen the forest clearing where a journalist, a director, a painter, and a witch lament the lost Philena. Devoured by the gypsy moths, the forest crumbles slowly as the mysterious prophet Asphodel draws near. Entwined in the forest mythology the characters delve deep into one another’s psyche, a magnetism they are powerless to avoid. Fresh new writing in the spirit of the Brothers Grimm, for grown-ups."
A sprawling fairytale world is built in a falling-down forest by Max Bell Theatre Company in The Gypsybird Speaks. The large international cast tells the original story of unseen menaces and disappearing girls with a bold physical and visual style; an adult Grimm Brothers pastiche.
The Gypsybird Speaks is an extremely ambitious project, running at over an hour and a half. Max Bell Theatre Company have created a bold production which takes risks and doesn’t always connect. At times Max Bell Theatre Company realized their intellectual and virtuoso approach; however some features do need a little more consideration.
The narrative in Gypsybird – so strong and moral in Grimm Brothers tales – was difficult to follow. We were introduced to a group of infighting intellectuals visited by a green-painted witch, with whom they proceeded to debate in the manner of Jean Paul Sartre. A girl has disappeared, upset at a picnic with her boyfriend who then proceeds to turn into a wolf. An Eastern European lady dies in childbirth. Stags are dying and a mysterious Indian boy appears.
Through these disparate elements fairytale themes of virginity and sexual virtue, violence and nature did emerge. The piece could benefit from some clarity as to how everything inter-links, but each separate thread has potential and was intriguing.
The script itself was over-long and complicated. The heightened, poetic nature of the text alienates the audience – allow the characters to move naturally through a register, so that the poetry is the peak of the language rather than the norm.
The performances from Max Bell Theatre Company were strong and enjoyable. The actors dealt admirably with the tongue-twister script, relationships were nicely observed, and the physical expression was nuanced and clear.
A strength of this show (the reason why it is recommended) is the imagery. The company has worked hard to incorporate a plucky visual style amongst the dense text. The show was bookended with transparent butterflies, had a small chorus of white creatures and a central tree trunk with an egg inside.
The trouble is that each image was unreadable, although they were visually pleasing. For example, when the wolf-boy was bound with red ribbons with a chorus member appearing to puppeteer him. There was no key to enable the audience to understand why that choice had been made.
The re-emergence of smoking onstage due to the popularity of e-cigarettes is exciting. Max Bell Theatre used this trend to great effect throughout the show – the atmospheric and character potential of this prop was fully realized.
A spirited show with some strong performances – for audiences interested in visual, heightened tales.