The Spectacular Tales of Grinburrel

Thu 4th – Sat 20th August 2011

reviews

sophie ainscough

at 11:07 on 15th Aug 2011

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In the Spectacular Tales of Grinburrel the story comes alive as soon as the audience steps into the theatre. We are complimented and smiled at, asked advice on the emerging set - “does that look circular to you?”, and politely requested to hold props of hats and lanterns. The play is a mixture of magical, ghastly tales and the squabbling and scheming of the travelling raconteurs between performances. As the production’s subject matter is itself one of telling tales, the relationship between audience and performer is made even more vital. The warm and spirited cast are eager to share their stories with us, and are welcoming even to the more devious members in their midst. Their clear enthusiasm for the performance is infectious and a delight to watch. This inclusiveness is also represented in the use of space, with members of the cast uninvolved in the performance of particular tales often joining the audience in their seats.

The streams of adjectives and rhyming lines give the tales a traditional feel, their pace matching the energy of the role switching and the story’s action. Combined with a use of repetition and chanting, key lines are made more memorable, making the main thread of the story easier to follow. The chanting of ascending numbers in one story as new characters are introduced maintains interest and attention and allows the progression of the tale to be easily followed. The earlier tales of the production however are not as clearly delineated and would benefit from a greater focus on this accessibility. However, the Spectacular Tales are not solely aimed at children, and perhaps this is the reason for this varying level of difficulty. Thus the production is probably unsuited to very young children.

The energetic performances are combined with the often tragic content of the tales. This is immediately conveyed as Grinburrel, initially motionless in his wheelchair and anxiously prodded, lurches into life and begins the story-telling, steadied by his walking stick and by fellow performers. The cast bounds across the stage as they transform from tree stumps to ever increasing hordes of giants, gasping for breath yet “only just warmed up”.

As the magical stage circle of white rope is pulled away in the touching finale, children in the audience are left wiping away tears as the raconteurs’ own story lines are neatly resolved. This is a performance worth watching for children and adults alike, so don’t miss out on Grinburrel’s last ever performance of his truly spectacular tales.

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Juliet Roe

at 11:30 on 15th Aug 2011

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It is the responsibility of a show billed as family friendly to grab the attention of any wandering minds from the offset. The cast usher you into the C Too in character and engaging you in conversation which does this, with the Twins played by Rebecca Over and Nina Westby doing this with enough timidity and gentleness to avoid scaring any shy children. The opening of the actual play, however, is simply not engaging enough- my attention was drifting despite my sitting on the front row. Although eventually very enjoyable, this show just took too long to get there and was in danger of losing its younger audience members in the process.

It attempts the tried and tested approach of introducing all the characters, which would have worked if the cast wasn’t 10-strong, making this section last far too long. Mr. Grinburrell (Toby Austin) introduces his ‘Spectacle’ and it’s all very exciting, but the first tales are really not engaging. I can’t even remember what the first one was, which is not a great sign, and the second one seemed to revolve around the buying and selling of cows, eventually featuring a cameo by a giant that was the only ‘spectacular’ thing in it.

By the third tale, however, they got it right. A dark tale inspired by the original Grimm version of Cinderella which adds new meaning to the phrase ‘dressed to kill’. It’s clear that the opening tales are a warm-up, for both cast and audience, but it’s a structure that means that the play initially feels like a school drama lesson. Once the tales actually become ‘spectacular’ and are teamed with tensions and storylines emerging amongst the troupe of characters themselves the show becomes much more engaging. The staging usually involves most of the large cast for each tale, with the non-speaking parts serving as stage hands by arranging themselves to form props, like a wardrobe. This means there is always something to watch and be intrigued by, and the few families that did make up the audience seemed to enjoy the slick yet playful storytelling. The staging in the tale about a girl and her reflection was especially effective. The cast maintain the high levels of energy throughout the show, and it is this strong, enthusiastic cast that saves this piece from losing its target audience’s attention permanently.

I should probably mention that my sitting on the front row was like sitting too close to the TV, but a TV from which characters could fall on you (as did happen, the character was very apologetic though), and spit on you. I nearly got a cane in the face at one point too, so sitting further back is advised not only from an enjoyment point of view but for your general comfort and wellbeing. There were some great performances from Mrs. Half(Ruth Angus) and Sophia (Hannah Cutting) and this show could have been wonderful had the beginning featured the spectacular elements of the rest of the performance.

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