first night


Rohan Perumatantri experiences a new devised offering from Wrong Tree Theatre.

 Wrong Tree Theatre’s first show of the year, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ was a successful statement of intent for a company built around devised work delivering an innovative re-telling of a classic fairy tale. Devised work is a rare occurrence for Durham Student Theatre and so much praise should be given to Director Henry Fell, firstly for attempting such an ambitious project and secondly for molding such a coherent, often compelling piece of theatre. Credit too must go to the cast as devised work requires a significant level of both commitment and experimentation from the entire troupe, a need borne out by the energy and consistency of everybody on stage.

‘Rumpelstiltskin’ stuck to its traditional narrative, following a peasant’s daughter (Lucy Knight) after she is imprisoned by a tyrannical king and forced to spin gold out of straw. Unable to do so, she is assisted by the enigmatic Rumpelstiltskin (Alex Ottie) who in return asks for her first born child as payment unless she is able to guess his name. Whilst few liberties were taken with the story, the use of live music, song and exaggerated physicality were used to embellish the show to great effect, drawing the audience into a steampunk, medieval dystopia. The simple set, consisting of two pallet crates, was sparse but sensible in the context of the venue and allowed for a variety of spaces to be created almost seamlessly, from an expanding prison cell to a peasant’s hut and more. The steampunk aesthetic also worked well, complementing the non-naturalistic physicality of the piece whilst also reinforcing the underlying menace contained within traditional fairytales.

Claire Forster, playing the King, displayed excellent physicality, seemingly removing her spine to portray a wonderfully detestable monarch. Ottie too was highly convincing, portraying his character with an unpredictable arrogance that was equal parts slimy businessman and spoilt child. Jake Hathaway (Father) and Knight succeeded in their roles as more grounded characters, although they should be careful to project, even in a small space, as even a slight dip in energy becomes highly noticeable in such a stylized piece.  The remaining troupe all deserve praise for remaining consistently in character even when not the focus of the scene as it is their small asides and movements that convince the audience of the world of the play. The most successful scenes were those that utilized the entire company, such as the court scenes and a particularly amusing demonstration of the passing seasons. These scenes were filled with small visual details and well considered choreography although more work could be given to polishing these group scenes as sometimes the stage became a little messy when people were not quite moving in unison.

Musical Director Tom Harrison was frankly brilliant, mixing songs with original music and providing accompaniment on the guitar for almost the entire performance. The music was very well chosen and contributed a huge deal to the atmosphere and professionalism of the show.

What reservations I have were mainly down to the script that, although good, didn’t allow for enough exploration of the characters or the motivations behind their actions. Whilst it is a short play, stemming from an even shorter story, the work that went into establishing the court at the beginning was sadly lacking at the end, which ended up feeling rushed. The daughter’s marriage to the king and the means by which she discovers Rumplestiltskin’s name felt like missed opportunities. As a devised piece there is a lot of scope to explore different facets of the story, so before its Fringe run I would urge the company to expand beyond the narrative simplicity of the original story.

Overall this was a wonderfully inventive piece of theatre in a form that is often sadly lacking in Durham. The entire company performed with great energy and I came away charmed and delighted with this experimental yet successful show. With a little more polishing and further exploration of the story and characters, Wrong Tree theatre could have a very successful Fringe show on their hands. 

19 June 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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