An Other Once Upon a Time

Production: An Other Once Upon a Time
Venue: Drama Barn
Rating: ****

Lin Mingyu’s production of An Other Once Upon a Time was a surreal and fascinating experience. The play took two original Grimm’s fairytales, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, scripted by Carol Ann Duffy, and performed them in the style of Japanese Bunraku Puppetry, a form of Japanese storytelling which uses life-sized puppets. Mingyu’s innovation was to cast actors to play both the puppeteers and the puppets. She stated that the idea was to “contrast the style of storytelling” between Western, Germanic fairytales in an Eastern style. This comes across particularly well through their use of Japanese live music, Kimono’s as dress, painted faces, yet a Western story told in English.

Seeing the play is a somewhat strange experience, augmented by the intimate nature of the Drama Barn. The audience comes in to find an almost pitch black room with an ethereal, green light shining over the puppets and their almost invisible puppeteers. This is particularly enhanced by the otherworldly beauty of the music, performed by Bishwaroop Majumdar, Ginevra House and Li Cheong. The puppeteers masterfully controlled the movements of their puppets around the stage, with an excellent performance by Beth Yarwood Smith as both the mother in Hansel and Gretel and the evil queen in Snow White, despite a slightly awkward moment with the plastic, kids-sized “gingerbread house”. Both Steven Li and Francesca Murray-Fuentes were charming as Hansel and Gretel, and Daniel Gibbons’ was very convincing both as father in Hansel and Gretel and as the prince in Snow White.

The disembodied, stuffed heads that were supposed to play the seven dwarves were less so, however still worked within the framework of the “puppets” of the play. Both Adrian Tellwright and Abigail Denneny were skillful storytellers. Unfortunately, the decision to have both the storyteller and the character speak at the same time was somewhat undermined by the lack of synchronisation. This improved as the play continued and may be chalked up to nerves.

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable experience, bringing the audience back to the stories of their childhood. The play will be performed for another three nights and is worth a watch, particularly if you enjoy Grimm’s fairytales and want to appreciate them in a new albeit slightly strange way.

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