This past Christmas, Unicorn Theatre’s Baddies: The Musical joked that while most people have heard of Rumpelstiltskin, they have little idea what his story is about. Maybe that’s because this 4,000 year old fairytale has some wild variations in narrative, including one version that has him as a former princess who was turned into an omelette for being grumpy. Ripstop Theatre and Norwich Puppet Theatre’s adaptation is less eccentric and probably more familiar: a girl is trapped by royalty after a relative falsely claims she can spin yarn into gold. Rumpelstiltskin promises to help but forces a cruel deal in return – either the girl guesses his name, or she must give up her first born child.
Zannie Fraser’s design steals the show. In a story about spinning fleece into gold, almost everything – the set, puppets and costumes – has been either spun out of wool, knitted, or made from sewing paraphernalia. Rumpelstiltskin himself is concocted of bobbins and spools, making him far less fluffy than the other characters, and allowing him to literally reel out of control when his name is guessed. Whilst the scenery and props look stunning, they can take a little while to set up, distracting the audience and slowing the show’s pace.
There is a mismatched energy between the two actors. Gemma Khawaja brings a host of accents, exaggerated characterization, and clear-cut comic timing; Gretchen Maynard-Hahn is more understated and low-key in her performance. The frame narrative – two chatty women gossiping about the story as they weave – therefore falls slightly flat as their conversations come across stilted and unnatural.
Somehow, it feels that the story of Rumpelstiltskin was chosen to fit the set rather than the other way round. Something is missing from this production that is difficult to measure.
Follow Children’s Theatre Reviews @ctheatrereviews