Reviewed by Flossie Waite & Luke Billingham
A balletLORENT production

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre  as part of Family Weekend
Touring nationally throughout 2018
For ages 7+

“This is not Walt Disney.”

So says the programme, and it ain’t wrong. Rumpelstiltskin – the third of balletLORENT’s trilogy of Grimm’s fairytales – has a thread of darkness running through it, despite the preponderance of gold. Patriarchal manipulation and abuse of power cast a long shadow over the tale, including its apparently happy ending.

Poet Carol Ann Duffy’s reimagining of the story offers credible motivation for the cruelty at its centre: grief, not mere greed, fuels the King’s love of gold; rejection, not mere resentment, causes Rumpelstilskin’s malice. And it is the characters’ anguish which is particularly well communicated through movement: while the shepherd’s daughter is left the impossible task of turning a room of straw into gold, the King, in his personal torment, seems to physically unravel before our eyes as he spins from a golden rope.

Phil Eddoll’s texturally sumptuous set is at once a pastoral idyll and a playground – the rolling fields are patchwork quilts, straw creeps out of every corner, and glistening gold cloth hangs within the King’s chambers; the castle is a climbing frame and the stonework conceals a slide.

The intergenerational cast – many of whom were scouted from the local area – makes for a convincing village community, complete with playing children, knitting elders and plenty of sheep. But neighbourly harmony becomes collective suspicion as they shun the odd Rumpelstiltskin, and May Day festivities are replaced by the King’s singular rage. Malcolm Rippeth and Michael Morgan’s lighting design charts this journey from brilliant sunshine over the busy village, to the looming silhouettes cast on the walls of the gloomy, isolating castle.

Rumpelstiltskin demands a lot from its cast, first introducing us to fairytale archetypes, before fleshing out the characters in front of us. John Kendall and Virginia Scudeletti are a benevolent and joyful royal couple, but after the Queen’s death, the inconsolable King turns tyrannical and the ghost of his wife haunts the stage. The innocence and kindness is knocked out of Gavin Coward’s Rumpelstiltskin, leaving him an awkward and frustrated loner; Natalie Trewinnard’s simple, contented shepherd’s daughter becomes an anguished but determined victim.

In acknowledging the darkness that underpins so many fairytales, and enriching the familiar tale with new layers of complexity, balletLORENT’s Rumpelstiltskin feels relevant and emotionally realistic.

Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.

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