A Pre-Christmas Treat, a family show that adults will enjoy too
We're ending our 2016 season as we began it: with a UK amateur premiere of a new play.
Back in February, it was the cult vampire thriller “Let the Right One In”. This December, it’s a new musical adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin”, commissioned by the egg, Theatre Royal Bath in 2014.
The egg specialises in new work that is designed to appeal to adults as well as children, and “Rumpelstitskin” is an excellent example.
With an ambitious score by award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones, the show also has an exceptionally witty book and lyrics by Matt Harvey. It takes the traditional fairy story we all know, and gives it some surprisingly modern twists.
Rare for a musical, it’s told by a cast of just four characters: a gold-greedy King (played by Sean Glock), a dim-witted Miller (Ed Young), his idealistic daughter Emily (Nicol Cortese) and the mysterious title character (Lucy Hayton) who exacts a fearful price for the ability to spin straw into gold.
Criterion Artistic Director Jane Railton explains the show’s appeal: “Most parents have had to sit through a piece of “children’s theatre” that bored every adult in the audience. As soon as I read this one, I knew it was different. It’s witty, fast-paced and surprisingly moving. If you’d run a mile from a traditional children’s show or a pantomime, there’s plenty here for anyone who likes good theatre.”
The Criterion production is directed by Deb Relton-Elves and Richard Warren, who shares Jane Railton’s view of the play:
“I saw the original professional production on a family outing in Bath and I was genuinely surprised by how much I laughed - and how much I really cared about the Miller’s daughter and the way she deals with the dilemmas she faces. As a fan of Stephen Sondheim, I liked the wry, witty writing and a score that’s full of light and dark as the story develops. As a piece of theatre, I think it does what the great Pixar films do: entertain children and adults in different ways, all at the same time. We’ll certainly be aiming to do that at the Criterion.”
The production features live music, with a four-piece band led by Musical Director Bill Bosworth.
It’s a thoughtful, witty take on the famous fairy tale: and a family show that, unusually, the whole family (from 7 years to 107) can enjoy.
Rumpelstitskin plays at the Criterion Theatre in Berkeley Road South from Saturday December 3rd-10th at 7.30pm, with a matinee at 2.30 on the 10th.
Like the best adaptations of fairy stories, Rumpelstiltskin works on more than one level. Yes, it gets down with the kids. There’s a simplistic plot, lots of jolly songs, a poor, downtrodden heroine, a bit of panto-esque interaction with the audience and even a flurry of balloons launched from the stage.
But there’s also plenty here for adults to enjoy and chew upon. The songs are full of witty one-liners and the underlying theme is so steadfastly feminist that it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that it had been re-written by the Sisters Grimm.
In fact, the script and lyrics came from one Matt Harvey and the score from Thomas Hewitt Jones. This adaptation of a tale with roots that long preceded even the Brothers Grimm was done originally for the Theatre Royal in Bath.
The Criterion is the first amateur company to take it on, and three star stalwarts move centre-stage. Sean Glock struts around as the vain and venal king before having to adapt his performance somewhat as events conspire against him. Lucy Hayton takes on the title role, not as a humped and rumpled old man but with the swagger of a particularly sinister pantomime prince.
And Nicol Cortese gives us a splendid portrayal of a bright and feisty woman forced by circumstances to live off her wits and take the best of what’s on offer. Her portrayal of Emily, the miller’s daughter, is something of a tour de force. In a particularly enjoyable two-hander with Glock, she stands, hands on hips, and calmly tells the king: “Marry me or kill me. Your choice.”
I’m not giving any secrets away in revealing that he chooses the former. As a result, workers’ wages rise and social justice prevails. This is a fairy story, remember.
The fourth member of the cast is Ed Young, who plays the miller. His first performance for the Criterion suggests that he has had much experience elsewhere and his face, best described as “lived-in”, is ideal for a daft Dad with a hip-flask habit and a loose tongue as a consequence.
The performances have pace and subtlety under the direction of Richard Warren and Deb Relton-Elves. And the same could be said of the background score from a band tucked away on the side of the stage under the direction of Bill Bosworth.
The music captures the mood as this re-telling of an ancient tale veers not just from lightness to dark but through several levels in between.
Rumpelstiltskin is at the Criterion until Saturday, December 10 when there is a matinee at 2:30 as well as an evening performance at 7:30.