Brighton Year-Round 2021
Directed by Mimi Goddard, Faye Woodbridge, Steven Adams, Musical Director Ella Turk-Thompson. Scenic Design, and Painting Tom Williams, Set Construction Cast and Crew. Lighting Beverley Grover, Lighting and Sound Operation Steven Adams. Costumes Mimi Goddard, Steven Adams. Photography Miles Davies. Till July 3rd.
Perhaps we’ve been charmed asleep. We wake up and it’s Christmas. But it’s midsummer. We’re in a fairy’s tale. The green darkens and it’s clear it’s Grimmer.
Christmas has had to come late, but it’s come early too as this originally festive production is finally unleashed to unlock Brighton Little Theatre, hopefully for good. BLT’s Steven Adams has scripted and theatrically crafted six More Grimm Tales and a swish in the tale from a salty addition. Three we know, sort of. Three we probably don’t. And one – well it’s a complicated tail.
Seven actors multi-role – Nick Cousins, Leigh Ward, Chloe McEwan, Tess Gill, Katie Newman, Rosalind Caldwell, Kate Stoner. It’s directed by Mimi Goddard, Faye Woodbridge, Steven Adams.
Musical direction’s by Ella Turk-Thompson, known for stage roles, who produces a nano-set of sound-bites, plus one extended number. Wait for Beyoncé’s ‘If you liked it you should have put a ring on it.’
Tom Williams is scenic designer and painter: a dense outgrowth with castellation (upper window for heroines and dodgy aliases); trees, ramped blocks arched to that window; sand, stone with props to extend to downstage interiors.
Beverley Grover’s lighting is a real character: intense hues shift the stage’s feel – so the sweep of BLT’s stage suddenly shimmers a pool upstage left.
Mimi Goddard’s and Steven Adams’ costumes induce awe: red suits drip charm bracelets, shimmery cloaks, ornamented jackets and hats. hunter’s green khaki, a kaleidoscope of dresses for all sexes. There’s a beige hedgehog-yolk-yellow cockerel attire which must count as a masterpiece; though a mermaid without tail but a fish’s head runs it close.
Glenys Stuart’s thanked for her coconuts? Find out. You can’t move for baby puppets. And is that…? Pantomimic mitts on poles: obvious reasons.
It’s all as slick as the acting and sound cues. It might be what we expect of BLT, but should never be taken for granted, least of all now.
We know this. That castle window gets a work-out. Tess Gill’s cackling witch dwells with high walls, owning a patch of rapunzel which poor Chloe McEwan’s mum-to-be craves so Leigh Ward loyally nabs for her (nice mimicry of clambering) till he’s caught and they have to give up their child. Lonely Rapunzel lets down her hair and a lot else inside the tower when Nick Cousins’ Prince who’s heard the witch ask that favour, asks it for himself. And a few inches more.
Cousins is excellent ratcheting up a narcissism attendant on oblivious princes, sending this one up ripe. Rapunzel’s banished with bairns, he’s blinded leaping into thistles and all seems dark dark dark amidst the blaze of evil laughter. But all is not lost.
Gill relishes this burlesque of a role, Ward and McEwan double as babies later, carrying dummies – a staple of this production. It’s not clear why they drawl deep Kansas: it doesn’t feel an American tale. Princess is radiant Katie Newman who later displays a gallimaufry of accents and her accustomed flexibility.
The Donkey Cabbage
Newman is now Hunter with two mothers, also giants – McEwan (also a Miller) and Gill. Ward’s the cackling Wizard now all in green, Caldwell’s Old Woman, Servant and again Giant, seems to get a raw deal when Servant later on. Cousins, son of Ward with cracking thighs (yes we can see another neat set of gender reversals) is the slightly unworthy object of the Hunter’s affection. Newman’s the radiant hero here, full of bright purpose.
There’s trickeries after Hunter’s generous to Caldwell’s Old Woman who grants a gruesome boon. Shoot into the middle of nine cawing birds to release a wishing-cloak, one will drop dead, swallow its heart, you’ll find a gold coin under your pillow every morning. Adventuring she comes across those who’ll steal both, with a vomiting spell. So Ward’s Wizard orders cracking thighs Cousins the Son to take both her hearts, one literally (ugh!). Using that wishing-cloak Son flies them both to a mountain and Hunter’s left denuded
What Hunter does about it – you’ll have to see. Title’s a clue. Different cabbages, donkeys, physical translations and morphing back. Though I find Caldwell’s servant suffers a bit too (who’s not in the narrative till then, though Caldwell relishes pathos) only the really bad suffer. The ending might surprise.
Ward relishes OTT Wizard+90-decibel cackle and crotchety movement. Cousins is nicely pathetic: thighs or not (we get those!) the Son’s a wimp. Newman, always alert to comedy, plays it straight too; nailing the story’s sense that heroes need auras. Caldwell (with three roles) McEwan and Gill all trace vivid cameos – relishing their triple turning mountain giants.
Stoner takes the title role with a kind of exasperation. You feel she knows that whatever happens, it’ll be bad for her, and she’ll accept it. She doesn’t have to be happy.
Old King, first of Gill’s roles (superbly doddery, dying several times pantomimically) enjoins Faithful Johannes to look after Caldwell’s Young King and never let him see the picture locked away of Princess of the Golden Roof: Ward in fact. Naturally Caldwell gets her way; the whole story’s a medieval-style testing of faith to the extreme. Mainly of Johannes and finally a reversal, of Young King and Princess.
You’d not credit credits undertaken by three of the cast. Gill’s First Goldsmith who smiths enticing gold to lure Princess to Young King’s ship, is Bosun on it and warning Raven No.1, which she cawingly relishes. McEwan’s Servant, Second Goldsmith, Sailor, Chambermaid, Raven again, and a baby Prince (them puppets). Newman plies the ship – a neat model flown on by her across the brine – Puppeteer and Princess.
Now this is one of the odder, bloody tales though ends well. Its medieval core isn’t one we immediately identify with. And overhearing creaky ravens caw prophesies is creakier than the ship’s timbers.
So overhearing Ravens, Stoner’s Johannes does apparently dastardly deeds, never allowed to tell why or she’ll turn to er stone. She has to shoot a chestnut horse, burn a wedding dress, suck blood from the breast of Princess/Queen and then, well there’s telling consequences and we’re not even near the end. It’s garishly plotted.
Beyond Stoner and Gill, be-wigged Ward relishes being Princess for fifteen minutes, Caldwell the juvenile lead – an ardent, occasionally petulant Young King; McEwan and Newman enjoy pop-up roles.
The Frog Prince
So we think we know this brief fable. Newman’s deliciously spoilt Princess lives with Gill’s finger-wagging King and Caldwell’s servant Heinrich when she loses her golden ball in that pool. Plop. McEwan’s wily Frog pops up offering ball for boon – to dine and even sleep alongside her. Newman’s all sulk and Gill’s all honour when learning of the promise. Tenacious McEwan’s not going anywhere. Pad suckers know their rights. How’s that spell’s broken? You might be surprised, but Adams keeps to the original.
Ward and Cousins complete as unfavoured, ill-favoured Princesses. They don’t even get to snog a frog. ‘We’d be better treated at New Venture Theatre’ they harrumph off for ever.
The Pied Piper of Hamel
Splendidly arrayed in red with hanging charms, Stoner’s back in a darkly inveigling title role playing Debussy’s Syrinx on the flute (well sort of); with Ward, Gill, Caldwell, Newman, Cousins as rats and children. In between Ward’s the promissory, ungrateful Mayor, Gill chorusing Citizen, Caldwell low mean Treasurer, and Newman multi-roling Rats and Mice, Treasurer’s Daughter (stolen away), and Babysitter with daughter who returns with pathos. Cousins is equally hapless Mayor’s Son and the Blind Child also too late to join that trail out of Hamelin.
The tale’s dark: we’re told of 1284’s factual aftermath. 130 children did vanish, 700 years before Orwell’s 1984, one source suggests helpfully.
Yes a Lame Child’s often cited; source says a lame, a deaf and a blind child were all who returned. So Blind will do!
The most elaborate of the three second-act tales, it’s the most Germanic. Ward makes his presence felt (don’t sit there!) in the title role, Son of a Farmer (Cousins, also Servant) who said he doesn’t mind if he has a hedgehog Son so long as he and his wife (Gill) has one. Minotaur Ward arrives in spiked apparel with latterly cockerel lower half described above.
Resentful of their child the couple are delighted when he just wants a bagpipe and pigs – the latter returned to the village manyfold, delighting Caldwell’s Second Farmer too. Ward’s needles point to new adventures.
Caldwell’s the First King he helps out of the forest, but Hans is chagrined his promised reward on arriving at court (Gill’s Messenger splutters disdain) is denied. There’s a rub. Hans revenges himself on Newman’s horrified Princess, also Maidservant to the next, but encounters Stoner’s doddery Second King, who with daughter McEwan proves honourable: she’s all nervous warmth despite flinches. There’s a sloughing, a fire-throwing and a transmigration to please her.
Moral: the prickles of the father are visited on a son but can be plucked. McEwan also features as Courtier. Caldwell as often takes several roles – so beyond Second Farmer and First King she’s Priest and Doctor too. Overall the affable, hardened and shrewd Hans is a hero without many prickles facing inward: but in Ward’s guffawing er hands he’s just, ultimately generous, not to be double-quilled.
Don’t Go Searching for a Mermaid
The ensemble dons naval caps, fish-heads and tails, swaying and sea-going (that ship again) with green sheets bringing us a moral shanty, Turk-Thompson’s big set-piece. You know mermaids of course, all promise above, but… well they’re not the only sort. Find out. This rock around the rocks despite brevity is one of the trickiest, fast-action numbers of the show. A splendid curtain-down.
Bar and seating are distanced to highest standards, with – like last autumn – innovative Perspex shields around individual tables; audiences are called up and down in rows.
It’s not easy to overpraise BLT’s professionalism – a constant in their productions. The ensemble – almost a repertory company – are wholly in tune. This rollicking production needs razored timing and blocking, musical cues and ad-libs worked in to half-second slots. It looks easy, but dissolves and costume-changes prelude a fluid storytelling. Seasoned directors shunning fine amateur productions (unfairly, I’d say) come to BLT. A must-see.