Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Pantaloons: Grimm Fairy Tales

Remember this lot?  They're back and this time they had come home to the theatre that they originated in!

After a thoroughly wonderful afternoon seeing Dream last August I got in contact (via twitter, what else) with The Pantaloons to find out when they were going to be back and was pleased to see it would be less than 3 months until they returned to the Gulbenkian, this time with their production of Grimm Fairy Tales.
We booked tickets as soon as they became available and a group of 9 of us saddled up and high tailed it to the Gulb for an evening of laughter in the Black Forest.  We all noted how nice it was to be in the Gulb and not actually involved with the show for a change!
The eagle eyed amongst you might notice that it was near-enough the exact same cast that performed Dream earlier this year in the glorious outdoor Mt Ephraim.  It's a bit chilly to be sat outside for an evening of theatre at the moment so we were inside at the weekend.  The Pantaloons are currently touring with two shows, Grimm Fairy Tales and the Canterbury Tales, both performed by the same cast.
The cast recognised me from last summer - as they commented after the show "we saw your camera and thought, oop, she's back".  Oh the shame.  I do want to point out that I only took pictures during the pre-show entertainment as the audience was filing in and the curtain call - unlike an outdoor show it is much more obvious if you are taking pictures inside and I didn't want to distract the actors, although to be fair they coped very well with the heckling from the audience at various points (invited I may add) so in retrospect they probably wouldn't have minded!
As before as you file into the auditorium the Players are strolling about the stage, singing songs and chatting (in character) with the audience as they find their seats.

Lights are kept at half house levels so you can see the people in audience around you which makes you feel as though the show is actually a lot closer to you, a similar feeling to outdoor theatre.  It also helps that the Players interact with the audience and don't restrict themselves to just the stage as their acting space.

So the show.  The play follows the adventures of the brothers Grimm and the Wild sisters as they tell stories to be entered into Jacob Grimm's book, much to the frustration of the youngest Grimm brother who isn't allowed to join in.  As they tell (and act out the stories) they explore what makes a fairy tale, the role of women in fairy tales (told by the original and hilarious song, "If you want a prince to wed, play dead") and the way story telling has evolved over the centuries.  There are numerous fairytale tropes referenced, from the mysterious hut in the middle of the forest, the prince under an enchantment and the wicked witch to the damsel in distress and the baddie who gets a comeuppance.
Every story was told in a slightly different way.  Cinderella for example was told in about 1 minute straight with each actor only allowed to say one word to move the story along "Cinderella", 'Step Mother", "Clean", "Wash", "Invitation", "Ball", "Dress" and so on whilst The Little Tailor received the full American Disney treatment, irritating hero and uplifting townsfolk dance numbers included.
The Fisherman and the Wish was told using puppetry and an increasingly frustrated fish, intermixed with cultural references as the fisherman's wife wanted more and more greedy and outlandish wishes to be granted (a megalomaniac with an army and an air force and access to weapons of mass destruction at her fingertips was a personal highlight).

The set was simple and effective - this is a touring show so it has to be really, and conveyed a multitude of settings, from poor huts and inns to castles and forests.  Note the string of candy canes, a reference to the gingerbread cottage in Hansel and Gretal.  This was flung over the side of the hut halfway through that fairy tale, causing much mirth amongst the audience.

The entire play is punctuated with a soundtrack played out on guitars, banjo's, accordions and a beat set by the players themselves.
Throughout the production The Pantaloons demonstrated their usual high energy, interactive and quick change production that I look forward to when going to see them (the quick change from the old man to the bear particularly delighted the audience).  They covered a lot of ground, with a good mix of familiar stories (Princess and the Frog, Snow White and Rose Red) and less familiar (The Singing Bone).  During the interval we found ourselves comparing which stories we had heard and which were new to us.
One of the things I love about The Pantaloons is the audience interaction.  A young man in the audience was dragged onto the stage to play one of the brothers in the story of the Three Brothers and the Devil, two other audience members found themselves the inadvertent stars of their own fairytale which also encouraged suggestions from the audience (which involved a magical meatball and a cross between a chicken and a spoon, both of which were admirably improvised by the cast) and this clearly delighted the children in the audience, all of whom wanted to speak to the actors after the play.  It is so wonderful to see children so excited and enthused both by theatre (that isn't pantomime) and also fairy tales as they should be told - handed down by voice and art, adapted and updated with modern day references and complete with the gruesome bits (the ugly step sisters in Cinderella did chop off their toes and heels to make the shoe fit, something Disney conveniently forgot about).
They are still touring with both Grimm Fairy Tales and Canterbury Tales and are returning to Canterbury sometime in the Spring, I think with their new show, Sherlock Holmes.  I can't wait.

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