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The Entertaining Macabre of Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales
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The Entertaining Macabre of Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales

Picture of Imme Dattenberg-Doyle
Updated: 27 December 2016
Philip Pullman’s retelling of the Brother Grimm’s fairytales has been adapted, and brought to life by Philip Wilson at the Bargehouse, OXO Tower Wharf in London. The show, extended from its staging at Shoreditch Town Hall after popular demand, is a fabulous assault on the senses, and innovative theatre storytelling.

In the theatre space, vision, smell and touch are brought together in make-shift props to create enticing and eerie scenes in which the actors play versatile roles in the adapted fairytales. The immersive show takes visitors through five different floors to experience five different stores. Familiar faces play a variety of roles, often masked by surprising costumes; drapes, veils and even watering cans are used in swift succession to keep the spectator on edge.

Sabina Arthur, Morag Cross and Kate Adler in Grimm Tales/ Courtesy Grimm Tales
Sabina Arthur, Morag Cross and Kate Adler in Grimm Tales | Courtesy Grimm Tales © Tom Medwell

The building is utilized create a space in which the spectator has an immediate sense of unease. Between the uneven lighting, the often disturbing props (think old doll houses and taxidermy), and the small staircases, this action-packed theatrical keeps you on your toes. Dare to suspend your disbelief as the cast invites you into Germany’s folklore, with tales such as the Frog King or Hansel and Gretel. The show delightfully strips back Grimm’s fairytales to the macabre and moralizing style they began with, losing the glamour of Disney’s adaptation.

Indeed, the show offers the spectator an evening of wondrous and magical narratives. The actors tell their story in unison, each chipping in to recreate the scene, bringing additional sounds in order to further explain the narrative. Tales run smoothly from scene to scene, with Philip Wilson’s unusual props being recycled effortlessly.

Unnerving Decorations/ Courtesy Grimm Tales
Unnerving Decorations | Courtesy Grimm Tales

Grimm Tales attempts to cater for a variety of genres: the old and the young, the traditional and the avant garde, the visual and the auditory. Visually, this adaptation is nothing short of spectacular, as immense attention is paid to detail in every corner, even allowing the spectator to unleash their inner-explorer by walking through the unnerving scenes after each performance.

This piece forms an intimate setting in which the spectator is invited to immerse themselves in the storytelling experience, though staff ushering crowds of people from set to set and leaves little time for individual discovery during the acts. This approach, however, is kept interesting by the length of the narratives themselves, which are usually no longer than 20 minutes.