EFR - Reviews of Maiden: A Recycled Fairy Tale

Maiden: A Recycled Fairy Tale

Mon 17th – Sat 29th August 2015

reviews

Chloe St George

at 06:14 on 23rd Aug 2015

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The only ‘recycled’ aspects, it seems, of Maiden: A Recycled Fairy Tale, are the set, created from sustainable resources, and the plot - a retelling of a traditional Portuguese fairy tale. Everything else, including new writing from Beatrice Updegraff and original songs by Autumn Evans, is refreshingly unconventional. Writer and Director Updegraff, is eager to break away from the all-too-common, sugar-coated depictions of fairy tales, and instead unearth the harsh realities within them, in part inspired by cases of child abuse that have gone unreported. She is clearly a very thoughtful writer, and it allows her, along with an extremely strong cast, to strike a delicate balance with this play, creating something which is at once both gentle and menacing.

In accordance with this vision, our narrator is a cynic and most likely a drunk. Love is tainted by taboo or ulterior motives. Children who are sweet and nymph-like are soon spiteful and damaged, as Arianne Sadie Brooks and Annie O’Brien’s performances show. Alice Hodgson, meanwhile performs with a sort of choked-back bitterness which sets the tone of the piece brilliantly.

This choice of a recycled set makes for a very fitting contrast – whilst the events of the play are tragic and destructive, the production itself is sustainable and hopeful. Beauty and ugliness are in close proximity, a recurring aspect of the show.

I am reminded, more than once, of Florence and the Machine. The floral, bohemian set and costume design could be taken straight out of the music video for her song Rabbit Heart and the themes in her lyrics resonate with the common tendencies of the play: to show the beauty in tragedy and the violence in love.

I am perhaps most impressed by the subtlety of the production. The show contains many allusions to, and motifs of, the traditional fairytale without appearing formulaic. It is not one to burst into song and dance, but uses both to feed into and compliment the emotional tone of the piece. Carrying the music alone, Autumn Evans’ faultless voice is somewhere between the pureness of Norah Jones and the rougher, more affected edge of Amy Winehouse and is set to very honest lyrics and lamenting folk melodies. It captures some of this same juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness; ‘the end is nigh’ she sings at one point, to a pretty melody. The last scene, moreover, is choreographed and performed so beautifully, and charged with emotion that it brought a tear to my eye.

All aspects of the production – the acting, script, and lighting – appear thoughtful and professional. Yet something in the style gives away the fact that Updegraff is a young playwright. The characters, swigging bottles of wine, like to wallow in their own suffering somewhat, in an adolescent fashion which may not be to everyone’s tastes.

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Mel Beckerleg

at 18:13 on 23rd Aug 2015

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With a rose garden, a beanstalk and a bath tub, the stage is set, ready for a dystopian fairytale. Maiden: a Recyled Fairytale by 3Bugs, an alternative theatre company from the University of Birmingham, is a tale of incest and abuse that would put the very Grimm brothers themselves to shame.

Someone has clearly had fun with the set; flowers and fabrics – interestingly all sustainably sourced – alongside the gentle crooning of Autumn Evans on acoustic guitar, transport the audience to a town full of distorted echoes of childrens’ stories.

We follow first Mae (Alice Hodgson) and her questionable relationship with her brother, Elias (Matt Johnson) the focus then shifts to her child and finally to her brother’s marriage. The story rattles along interestingly enough, cycling through a cohort of damaged relationships. Still, there’s no denying there are frequent points where the plot is thin (it wouldn’t be a fairytale without them). An endemic selective mute-ness is particularly frustrating. The ending is careless, feeling rather like a checklist as the play attempts to tie up as many ends as it can, as quickly as possible. The sarky comments of the narrator (Satya Baskaran) do at least add some much needed humour, and deflect from cringe-worthy dialogue.

The acting is promising, if a little flat, and moments of dramatic tension are well-attempted but limp – setting aside the horror of Elias’ final fit of vengeance. That said, it would be worth watching the show just for Alive Hodgson’s performance as the deeply troubled Mae. Her depiction of an isolated, disturbed woman, driven to desperation and violence, as she becomes the mother holds in such contempt, is powerful and compelling. The children, played by Annie OBrien and Arianne Sadie Brooks give engaging performances, and it’s moving to watch the way that the young suffer at the hands of the adults around them.

Emotive dance sequences are used to good effect, infusing the show with a magical, folk ambiance, working well with the originally written songs, though the stage felt too crowded for the cast to explore this properly.

Ultimately, it’s a play that certainly has its moments; the cast have much promise and much to be proud of.

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