"Kids' Stuff for Grown Ups?"
by Chris Bearne for remotegoat on 28/03/09

It's good to look forward to a show, have some preconceptions and find them subverted. Dark Tales is like that. Yes, we all think we know the Hans Christian Andersen stories; we all think we've got a grown-up take on the post-Freudian dark side of fairy tales, the metaphorical induction of the child into the harsh realities of adulthood.

Giant Olive's production addresses this, promising to show us the "adult reality" of what Andersen was trying to convey (not least his own struggles to emerge from a really tough childhood and adolescence and perhaps continuing entrapment in lonerhood). It makes good this promise from our first step over the threshold : we are greeted by the performers with a look - in the garb and in the eye - that promises folksiness but hints at something much more louche and deadly. This is borne out by our discovery of the set : maybe a doss-house in old Copenhagen or an encampment in a barn at harvest time ; at all events, peasant and earthy, and full of junk, just about every last trifle of which finds its use in the story-telling. And it has too a hint of the gypsy about it, something which both underlines the otherly, universal reach of the tales and enables a very visceral, latin tone to be borrowed when it comes, for instance, to the dancing of The Red Shoes.

It's physical theatre par excellence. The room pulsates to the action, the singing and the vibrant narrative as it did recently with Giant Olive's Christmas Carol. It's appropriate and thrilling use of this space. The young company is inventive, multi-talented, resourceful, engaging and sexy. It tells these stories anew and, yes, delivers on the dark side of them, from the murderous motif running through Big Claus and Little Claus to the poignancy of The Story of a Mother and the horrific supernatural brutality and final redemption of The Red Shoes.

What more can you ask for? Oddly, a bit less, perhaps. I said "appropriate" use of the space, but it doesn't take that much energy, voice, presence, commitment and conviction to fill it. The company brims with these; it doesn't need to showcase itself or push the stories. For me, everyone came on a bit too strong, too soon. That's exciting, but it can get us hearing and watching rather than listening and seeing. Maybe it stemmed from the "adult reality" bit. I would have preferred to be reeled in by a lower-key, for-the-kids style opening, really telling it for the first time. It's a very well-structured show, and with the build to the intensity of the later tales this presently ceased to matter.

I was particularly convinced, though, by the three "A's" - Alice, Annie and Abi - and suspect that my admiration for the entire cast - it extends to all, without exception - would not have been alloyed just a little, had I been wooed early on rather than rampantly won.

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