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Zoom in to a grotesque grimoire of Grimm stories from Oxford's pioneer Creation Theatre

'Magical expressionism'

Creation Theatre Company: Grimm Tales for Fragile People & Broken Times, in front rooms everywhere, until February 14

Preview review by JON LEWIS

OXFORD’S innovative Creation Theatre Company’s latest online Zoom production, Grimm Tales for Fragile Times & Broken People, reviewed on a preview night, is a dazzlingly grotesque grimoire of stories from the Brothers Grimm, devised by Creation’s new digital repertory troupe along with director Gari Jones.

The five performers in the first company of its kind in the UK are all top-notch, with newcomer Kofi Dennis joining Creation regulars Natasha Rickman, Dharmesh Patel, Annabelle Terry and Graeme Rose, all well-versed in teasing out the darkness from familiar narratives.

Jones, who directed plays for Creation based on Grimm’s tales in 2007 in the Spiegeltent at Oxford’s BMW Mini plant and again in 2016 at the North Wall, reimagines the stories as emerging from a portside quarter of Grimsby, naturally, somewhere near the station, the swirling, phantasmagorical scenes of which open and close the drama.

Creation designer Ryan Dawson Laight excels in transforming rooms in actors’ homes into fantastical caverns for the
individual storytellers. Jones has created theatrical magic in enabling the actors’ computers to film scenes at improbably shot angles. In one scene, a paper bird adorned with passages of prose flutters away from the camera, alighting on a cardboard cut-out of a juniper tree placed between actor and screen. It looks so simple, but it must be so complex to enact.

The close-ups on the actors faces reveal nastily blackened teeth (clearly the characters have not been able to visit their dentist in lockdown), their expressions magnificently gaunt under kohl-black eyeliner and white face paint. Rickman flits from doll to troll in the space of a line, saccharine sweetness turning to bitter menace as she narrates a devastatingly unDisney version of
Rumpelstiltskin. Terry’s peasant-like narrator ensures that Hansel and Gretel warn of stranger danger, but that children need to worry about their stepmothers more.

Patel’s story Godfather Death is gloriously Gothic and surprisingly humane whilst Dennis’ The Moon poisons the soul in a tale where a community tears itself apart from greed and ignorance. Rose’s The Juniper Tree reflects pointedly the themes of procreation and loss in a narrative of folky magical realism, a story of loss told in a year of many losses.

Developing from previous Zoom shows, these Grimm scenes fill computer screens fully, the seamless editing allowing for the five fairy tales to interweave and echo each other. The storytelling really is remarkable. Not to be missed.

NB: There will be streamed performances from February 24 to March 13, with live audiences sharing the experience together.

Suitable for ages 12+. This production involves themes of death which may be upsetting to some audience members.
The show is in preview until February 14 and will then be available to stream from
February 24, 25, 26, 27, March 5 and 6, 12 and 13 (8pm, March 13 11.30pm showing)

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