Review by Rosie Curtis
A Rash Dash production
At Battersea Arts Centre until 30th December
For ages 5+
Feminist performance rockstars RashDash haven’t just turned their hand to making a kids’ show, they’ve kicked it in the bollocks in a fashion that feels fitting for 2017. In a year where high profile men have been booted off pedestals for sexual harassment and #metoo went viral, RashDash feel well placed to present something for children: Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen’s vibrant, angry and energetic work so perfectly communicates that women are forces to be reckoned with – vocally, spiritually, physically.
Sisters Snow White and Rose Red live an idyllic life in a cottage, until it’s interrupted by the arrival of Tom Penn’s gentle Bear. Bear’s got a journey to make, but when he needs rescuing from a small man with a very long beard (played with mischievous, hyperactive glee by Edward Wren), it’s Snow and Rose who come to his rescue. Their quest through dark caves and frozen tundras is watched over by narrator-turned-snow-angel Becky Wilkie, who shifts between haunting, ethereal songs and winking comedy commentary with ease. What could feel like a tried and tested tale of bravery and kindness triumphing in adversity is made contemporary, performed on a jungle of scaffolding under lights that wouldn’t feel out of place at a music festival. As the group absolutely smash their way through a series of belting original songs – covering rock tunes, ballads and folk– it’s difficult not to want to run away to join their super-cool gang.
Children’s theatre seems (for the most part) to be putting an end to the wet, damsel-in-distress of days gone by, with shows across the capital rejecting female characters that are simply waiting for Prince Charming, and instead letting the princess have a go at playing hero. But that’s not enough for RashDash, who offer up a more complicated gender politics: not only do their Snow White and Rose Red have enough agency to take control of the story and determine its outcome; they are never infantilised; they have skills, flaws, confidence and an avalanche of wit. Plus, there’s actual queer representation! Still a rarity in work for children. RashDash’s fairytale world is as complicated and interesting as our real one – and it makes their festive wish for kindness and equality feel so much more important (and would be even better if the cast wasn’t all white, but there’s always next Christmas).
There’s a chance that some of the political references might go over the heads of the younger end of the target audience, but these ferocious, independent women – and that’s women, not girls – storming the stage and sharing a story of sisterhood feel like they’re here to straight-up inspire. Even if the nuance is just for the parents, smaller audience members will still feel fired up (and plenty festive).
Rosie lives in London and works in theatre marketing. You can read her (sporadically updated) blog about theatre and performance here. Find her around the internet as @rcurtis0914