Wireless Theatre Company, December 2011
The final two adaptations of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tales in Wireless
Theatre Company's Very Grimm Christmas season both dealt with the theme of transformation.
Neela Dolezalova's The Brave Little Tailor rewrote the Grimm source-tale
slightly; the tailor (Nahel Tzegai) was now a bored young man living with his mother (Maggie Robson). The mother
was fond of telling bedtime stories to her son; one of them had the tailor transformed into a brave young man wearing a garment
carrying the legend "Seven at one blow." Following the Grimm source, the tailor experienced a series of fantastic tales, encountering
a giant, entering the service of the King (Maggie Robson again), and passing a series of tests of strength (reminiscent of
Hercules), until he could marry the King's daughter. Dolezalova changed the ending slightly, as the mother told the tailor
that the story was over now, and that he should return to his normal life once more. However the tailor disregarded his mother's
wishes and continued to live as a royal prince.
The production showed the tailor undergoing a process of self-transformation:
at the beginning of the adaptation he was almost totally ruled by his mother, but by the end he had no need to respect her
authority. Director Emma Playford re-emphasized the theme of transformation with some ingenious casting: both the tailor
and the King were played by women, suggesting that in the world of fairy-tale almost anything is possible. Concepts
of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' can be challenged as a way of encouraging listeners to reflect on how they
are socially constructed. Through an intelligent use of doubling (for example, Robson playing both the King and the mother),
Playford also demonstrated the fragility of social distinctions.
The actors obviously enjoyed delivering Dolezalova's lines: when the tailor
encountered the unicorn (Bethan Clark), the unicorn considered himself something of a stud, as he described the tailor as
"gor ... geous," taking a long pause between the two syllables. The tailor responded in down-to-earth fashion, calling the
unicorn a "knob-head;" later on she described a boar as a "hogroast."
Stuart Price's The Piper and Musicians of Bremen picked up where The
Pied Piper of Hamelin left off. It began with a short musical retelling of The Pied Piper, in which the
entire cast shouted "Rats! Rats!" several times, while a single vocalist told the story. It was sung in 3/3 time, placing
the emphasis on the Pied Piper's greed: as the mayor did not pay him what he asked, he retaliated by taking the children out
of the city. The song reached a crescendo of noise as the vocalist described how the children were quite literally swallowed
up in the bowels of the earth.
Price's retelling of the Grimm fairy-tale The Town Musicians of Bremen created
a brutal world in which some outcast animals - a donkey, a dog, a cat and a cock - left their home farm so as to avoid being
slaughtered. They tried to seek their fortune in Bremen by busking, but were chased out by the townsfolk. Eventually they
created their own little world - reminiscent of Orwell's Animal Farm -
in a lighted cottage. In a parallel story, a young mother and her children were cast out of their house by a sadistic paterfamilias,
who upbraided them for not carrying out his orders to the letter. Eventually the family sought refuge in the cottage as well.
All of them lived happily - until the unexpected entrance of the Pied Piper of Hamelin,
accompanied by the children, who were now forced to live like slaves. The animals overwhelmed the Piper and released the children,
as well as the mother and her family, all of whom could now return to their respective cities, safe and sound.
The animals were transformed by the experience of fending for themselves; no longer
dependent on the farmer for food and water, they carved out a life of their own. Their abortive attempts at busking -
i.e. singing in the street - taught them the folly of trying to live like human beings; rather they should trust in themselves
and their capabilities. At the end they proved their strength of character, as they helped secure the childrens' release.
The thirteen-strong cast (Paul Anthoney, Jessica Dennis, Neil Frost, David Beck,
Samantha Schefele, Siri Steinmo, Monika Pomeroy, Emily Wilden, Nadia Nadif, Ben Whitehead, Richard Morse, Claire Sundin
and Chris Rogers) gave a strong ensemble performance of dialogue and song. They had great fun with some of the more obvious
innuendos ("you can't eat cock ... and certainly not in public"). At the same time Stuart Price's production offered
a salutary lesson in showing just how brutal human beings could be.
Both productions provided a spiky yet hightly entertaining alternative
to the saccharine fare customarily offered at Christmas on television, radio or in the theatre. Catch them
if you can; they can be downloaded from the Wireless Theatre Company website at the link above.