Venue: The Space @ Niddry St
This review contains spoilers.
I was quite excited to see Fourth Monkey’s Grimm Tales: Hansel and Gretel because I’m a big fan of dark and twisted versions of fairy tales. However, I’ve never been more disappointed by a show in my life. It began promisingly enough. As the audience entered the theatre, two women kept pointing at random people and fixing their eyes on them in a disconcerting manner, sometimes giggling as if they were sharing a cruel joke about them. This immediately created a sense of discomfort and paranoia which perfectly set the tone for the rest of the show.
The women’s faces were split into two halves so that one side of their faces had a deathly pallor with huge black shadows around their eyes and dishevelled hair. The make up on the other half of their face was reminiscent of a creepy horror film doll. The two women’s appearance highlighted the show’s greatest strength – its styling. The witch who appeared later on looked fabulously disturbing too, complete with copper curls adorned with feathers and one taloned hand covered in black leather.
Acting as narrators, the two women with their faces split in half were unapologetically coarse and crude as they introduced the show, revealing that they were a pair of conjoined twins who had previously been connected by their vagina. The unsettling combination of the women’s childlike manner and explicit language alongside their blatant disregard for the audience made them absolutely terrifying – but it was also impossible to take your eyes off them. Their opening words promised an evening of deliciously dark entertainment and they were eerily compelling.
The show stayed true to its self-proclaimed loyalty to the Theatre of Cruelty and involved scenes of cannibalism, incest, murder and self-flagellation. Unfortunately, the show’s overwhelming desire to be shocking resulted in several instances of gratuity, especially one scene in which a naked man is spanked while Hansel is apparently forced to sexually abuse his sister. The depictions of insane opium addict Artaud’s tortured existence were well-constructed and the actor did a fantastic job at conveying Artaud’s anguish, but they soon became repetitive and lacked any real purpose. His eventual death at the hands of cancer contributed to a messy ending which made very little sense.
There were also several heavy-handed ‘lessons’ towards the end of Hansel and Gretel, including references to corrupt politicians, real-life witches and abuse victims going on to become abusers themselves. These felt unnecessary and detracted from the other worldly feel of the overall performance.
Then there were the scenes which were just downright bizarre, including a one in which the supporting cast use branches half painted to look like candy canes to have a play gunfight after pretending to be trees which shrieked when cut. However, that was nothing compared to the stepmother inexplicably mewing like a cat, while the father communicated solely through ape-like noises.
The actors weren’t helped by the space in which they were performing. A large part of the action took place on the floor but the arrangement of the seats meant several of the audience members were left craning their necks as they struggled to work out what was happening. This robbed pivotal scenes such as the witch’s death and Hansel’s assault on Gretel of their full power. It’s a problem I’ve encountered before in this venue and one that was made worse by the fact Hansel and Gretel doesn’t contain a lot of dialogue.
Part of me wonders whether I’m just not sophisticated enough to appreciate this unusual take on Hansel and Gretel – but given that at least one person walked out during the show and several others looked just as bemused as I was by the end of it, I’m guessing I’m not the only one who didn’t really understand what Fourth Monkey were aiming for.