THE Brothers Grimm got there first, delving into our hearts and minds more than three centuries ago, to leave tales that shock and sever, sieve and slice, and produce more than just a little death and blood along the path through the trees to the witch’s house.
So in the hands of a group of young storytellers without a care in the world we know that we’re going to make it to the end of the evening safely and live happily ever after. But now let’s add to the blend that master storyteller Phillip Pullman, he of the Dark Materials, whose own inky blackness combines with a mystical sense of wonder, to adapt the Grimms’ stories into pint-sized vignettes, performed by pint-sized children, so that the fog seems just a little gloomier and the forest just a spot more murky.
Open bookshelves to the rear of the stage stand dominant over the evening like the commandments themselves, lit low and enticing like a library. Tiered below are floors decked with pages that spill out into the audience, and our first view is of the performers pouring out books like birds, covering the stage with words. We’re in for an evening of magic.
Four tales, unforgettably told, first of the Frog King who demands to be treated as a human. Benjamin Collier is the puppeteer and performer, a demanding task for even the most polished of technicians, and he does it with skill and confidence. His fibbing Princess is Lauren Booth, just the right side of haughty to deserve her comeuppance, and Robin de Haan and Barnaby Whittome complete the company to create a rounded tale, simply and perfectly laid out like gold.
Words create memories, memories create legends, and legends build worlds. This evening is testament not only to the creativity of the Grimms and Pullman but to the soul of the solid King’s team that tell a tale with honesty, to amuse us all for an hour, with stories that will live for an age.
In three more tales – Thousandfurs, Hansel and Gretel and The Donkey Cabbage – this splendid group created of children make clouds out of pillows, giants out of masks, and coaches out of rumbles. Aided by some scary smoke, some deft choreography and Laura Dixon’s mathematically perfect stage direction which meant that everyone knew exactly what they were doing, when they were doing it and most importantly why they were doing it, we audience were transported into new worlds and magical places.
And if they exist only in our minds then so be it. Often the best stories ever are the ones we create for ourselves because they are the ones that will live the longest. A resoundingly successful evening.