Grimm goodness

The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon (Javeenbah Theatre)

Javeenbah Theatre

January 6 – 21

Once upon a time before Disney and its resulting copyright concerns, there were the brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who collected and published folklore. Their popularisation of stories such as “Cinderella”, “The Frog Prince”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White” et al makes them among the best-know storytellers of folk tales, or fairy tales as they have become over time. Originally though, the vast majority were not intended as children’s tales, which is certainly apparent in Javeenbah Theatre’s maintenance of their original (often violent) endings in their attempted combination of all 209 stories in the fast-paced and very funny “The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon”, written by Don Zolidis.  

Under Taylor Holmes’s direction, it is a rollicking ride as the core cast of five pace us through classic and obscure tales alike. Meatheatrical from the outset, the work is very self-aware, with actors reacting to their instructions and often engaging directly with the audience. Sections of the audience are also utilised to provide pantomime-ish and atmospheric accompaniment, such as in the original horror movie of “Hansel and Gretel” (an Act One highlight), which only adds to the fun.

Although they also sometimes make appearance in character roles, Martina French and Nathan French, serve predominantly as narrators who direct each story as it is shown on stage, with portrayals shaped by the characters’ desire to change their stories to make them more considerate of modern expectations, for example, when Snow White (Jessica White) switches into narrator role to retell the story her way repositioning its protagonist (now Nathan French) as a now feisty modern woman with avoidance of traditional gender roles.

The fractured fairy-tale premise means that there is sufficient audience familiarity to appreciate what is being twisted anew and intertwined on stage. Despite the fairy tale content, there is much adult humour in the crafted script, which never misses an opportunity for enhancement through the lens of modern sensibilities, such as when Little Red Hat of the ‘hood, sets out to visit her passive aggressive grandmother. Simple staging ensures focus remains entirely on the performances, with attempted prop inclusions often adding humour in and of themselves. And who knew there were so many stupid ways to die?

Energy never wanes in the cohesive ensemble’s enthusiastic realisation of the show’s many exaggerated characters. James Greenwood is excellent in his embrace of such a wide variety of roles, appearing as (amongst others), a magically transformed frog, talking fish, handsome prince, Scottish Dwarf and every character in one hilarious sketch, before backing up again for the ensemble’s final, frantic 2-minute recap of the entire show. Also making her characters distinct and memorable is Jessica White, particularly as an angsty teenage Rapunzel of mutated hair and jerk parents, and later as the assured regal ruler in Act Two’s disturbing retell of “Faithful Johannes”, the original psychological thriller. Indeed, Greenwood and White work well together in their many varied couple pairings, making their stories especially easy to watch. Also, of note is the confident performance from the ensemble’s youngest member, Ella Goodhew, especially as a melodramatic prima-donna orphan girl Cinderella, intent on realising her opportunity for future stardom.

“The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon” may be an unconventional play, but in Javeenbah Theatre’s hands, it is clearly a good one in its offer of lots of light-hearted reward. The show makes for an entertaining night of free-form comedy for anyone looking for a madcap (but even-handedly not too manic) break from the mundane … and to find out what to expect if you are expecting to live in a fairy tale, whether you be one of the genre’s pretty people or otherwise.