BWW Review: THE GRIMM TALE OF CINDERELLA at SMOCK ALLEY THEATRE
It's a tale as old as time, or certainly as old as any fairy tale, but Smock Alley Theatre's production The Grimm Tale of Cinderella manages to put a fresh spin on an old reliable, masterfully knowing where to pay homage to sanctified tradition and where to shake things up, so to speak.
This show is marketed as one that subverts the expectations that come with such a well established story. While certain changes are made to the story they are quite arbitrary in the grand scheme of things and would leave any audience member looking for innovation decidedly underwhelmed. On the other hand, any audience member looking for some wholesome and thoroughly entertaining escapism will find their expectations wholeheartedly met.
Katie McCann's script framed the well-known rags-to-riches narrative with the eponymous Brothers Grimm travelling through the thickly forested lands of Germany and happening upon a mystical old woman who offers them a show-stopping tale to add to their as yet unpublished collection. The script is funny to be sure, appropriately self-aware and well-constructed but at times overly simplistic. There are numerous nods to popular culture phenomenons but they are often misplaced or understated to the point where they are ignored or misunderstand which can give the dialogue a slightly stilted quality at times, though this did not prove detrimental to the play as a whole.
The story unfolds as cast members alternate in the listful and charming narration. The cast must be praised above all other elements of this effectively minimalist production which saw each performer take on two and three roles a piece. Danielle Galligan headed the cast as both the story-telling old woman and the titular heroine herself. Galligan deserves due praise for bringing to life a princess to be who, despite having no discernible character flaws, managed to avoid that sickly sweetness that many fairy tale heroines fall victim to.
While the entire cast presented admirable performances, two can be safely said to have stolen every scene they entered, Fionn Foley and Camille Lucy Ross stand to the fore as the true stars of this production. As Jacob Grimm, Foley was believable as an eager but idealistic young writer, not experienced enough to have developed a thick veneer of cynicism, thus setting the perfect tone for the fairy tale romance to come. Speaking of romance, Foley also plays the romantic hero of The Grimm Tale of Cinderella, but he is not the prince. In a subtle but energetic twist Kit, the prim and proper personal assistant to the wild and careless party-animal of a prince. Cinderella, or Ella as is her actual name, falling for Kit offers a nicely placed level of class consciousness to the show. It is refreshing to find our lovers embarking on a happily ever after that will require just as much hard work as the happiness it offers. Although Kit is not actually the prince, he is actually rather charming. The bashful and hopelessly genuine character of Kit acts as the beating heart of the show in lieu of the missed opportunity to expand on Ella's relationship with her father after his remarriage.
As the much told story goes, Ella's father remarries and Ella gains not only an evil stepmother but two wicked step sisters to boot. The stepmother in question is played by the aforementioned Camille Lucy Ross. Ross provided the perfect level of passive aggression, making a character who could have been a ridiculous pantomime villain into a far more everyday evil, recognisable as the snarky customer who loves to complain, or the over-entitled, over-competitive "yummy mummy" as it were. Ross then turns this character on its head, moving effortlessly between Ella's cruel stepmother and the Prince's softly spoken and kind to a fault mother.
Clever costume changes aided the seamless nature of these repeated character changes as the simple addition of a jacket or removal of a necktie was employed to convincingly and legibly differentiate between characters.
The set design was beautifully simplistic, dominated by a large abstract construction of a tree that served as both an indicator of location and a representative of character as it symbolised our heroine tragically deceased mother. This symbolism was touching but in great need of added depth as it could have expanded the emotional range of the show had its more heartbreaking themes been engaged with.
Overall this show is one that is an equally comedic and romantic fare supported by marvellous design and a suitably atmospheric venue. As it happens, The Grimm Tale of Cinderella is in fact anything but grim.