On one level, the Ballet Lorent has once again created an interesting dance event that tells a fairy tale for both children and the adults that they bring along to enjoy. The dancers are very fine, there is a clear narration, the sets (Phil Eddoles) and costumes (Michele Clapton) inventively echo the kind of Grimm-Gothic visual world that harks back to the illustrations in famous 19th-century fairy tale collections; and I like the choreography by Liv Lorent. Certainly, the children who attended the performance I saw last week in Oxford were captivated and clearly having a very fine time. The music by Murray Gold seemed to me to service well the approach of Carol Ann Duffy who wrote the narration/revision of the Rumpelstiltskin story for this project.
But it is there that I have a huge quibble. This is not Rumpelstiltskin. It is a hugely rethought, rewritten and reinvented tale. This is a riff upon the original Grimm tale, with a happy ending and implications of sexuality that will not be missed by the grown-ups in the audience and which seemed to me potentially troubling for the kiddies.
But I guess that you have to take the given and the given in this case is a reworking of the original fairy tale that is quite beside the point of the original story, turning Rumpelstiltskin himself, through a completely new Back Story, into the rejected son of a king. Because of the loss of his golden mother, Rumpelstiltskin is given a magic gift for spinning straw into gold. The king is horrible to his son and rejects him, and the son eventually wins the girl and the kingdom. There are a few shades of Oedipus in the retelling of the tale. So this Rumpelstiltskin is not the mysterious and nasty little dwarf who is a fine example of hubris and something of a gleeful sadist.
The twists added to this version of the tale make it much more like, say, a version of Schiller’s Don Carlo with the young girl actually in love with the rejected son and vice versa but having to marry the king. And I found a little questionable the idea that somehow the heroine had conceived a child with Rumpelstiltskin before marrying the king, who then conveniently dies so that Rumpelstiltskin gets the baby and the queen and the kingdom. Ah, well …
As I say, I guess we just have to accept the “given” with this one, but I do think that Carol Ann Duffy has muddled the myth too much.
Nevertheless, like the kids in the audience, I enjoyed the dancing, the mise-en-scène and the general energy of the event. Gavin Coward was an appealing Rumpelstiltskin, Natalie Trewinnard was excellent as the Shepherd’s daughter, and I found John Kendall’s King, Virginia Scudeletti’s Queen and Toby Fitzgibbons’ Shepherd moving and memorable. As long as you are not expecting the old version of the story, this is a perfectly good ballet. I also admire and enjoy the company’s outreach to the local communities and the training and use of both children and adults who take part in the show at each place where they stop.
All in all, this is a fine evening in the theatre, especially for children; and I guess that my objections to the way the story has been manipulated did two good things for me: made me think about the symbolism of the tale as presented by Ballet Lorent and sent me back to the original Grimm version of the fairly tale. Philip Pullman has done a fine selection of Grimm Tales where you can find this and all your other favourites and I recommend you read that either before or after you see this show. And that if this show comes anywhere near you on its tour, you should, if you can, get tickets and take some youngsters.
The Ballet Lorent production of RUMPELSTILTSKIN is touring extensively until November 2018. Check for venues at: http://www.balletlorent.com/home.html
- Dance Theatre
- Story revised by Carol Ann Duffy
- Director and Choreographer Liv Lorent
- Producer Ballet Lorent
- Composer Murray Gold
- Cast include Ben Crompton (Narrator), Gavin Coward, Natalie Trewinnard, John Kendall, Toby Fitzgibbons, Virginia Scudeletti
- Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
- 1 June 2018 Currently on Tour