Grimm Tales Whisks You Into A Wonderfully Weird World

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 116 months ago

Last Updated 27 November 2014

Grimm Tales Whisks You Into A Wonderfully Weird World ★★★★☆ 4

Photo by Tom Medwell

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Once upon a time there was a Bargehouse. It was a cold, dark building with winding staircases, broken chairs and fusty portraits adorning the walls. And yet there was life in the rooms. Death too. Flickers of light. And quite a bit of magic.

Phillip Pullman’s adaptation of the the Brothers Grimm fairy tales finds a new home at South Bank’s Bargehouse — and what a fitting home it is. The “immersive fairy tale” (we’d say it’s promenade rather than immersive, but perhaps that’s splitting hairs) centres around six tales of varying recognisability, from Hansel and Gretel to the more obscure Thousandfurs.

But this Grimm Tales is no regular sit-down storytelling session. The audience enter in three groups, each led a separate path through the building, entering rooms alternately festooned with hay bales, spinning wheels, decrepit wardrobes, rusty bathtubs, four-poster beds and glowing moons. Each arena vaguely resembles a woodland scene (for don’t all good stories involve a trip down to the woods?) and it is in these spaces that the magic happens.

The acting is adept (Morag Cross as a heartbroken Queen and James Byng as a lovelorn young King particularly stand out). But the actors are not the real stars of this show. The sound and lighting is effective (a swift clap and bloom of light signal the ‘start’ of every new story), and the surroundings — the set, the props, the costumes — are spectacular, for which designer Tom Rogers must be congratulated. We enjoy our interval drink not in a cramped bar but perched on one of seven tiny beds filling the bedroom of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and it's lovely.

One downside of this otherwise triumphant show is the fairy tales themselves. Simple and morally shallow in their nature (this is a superficial world where beautiful = happy and old = mean), the stories never shine quite as bright as their surroundings. Grimm Tales is also long: two and a half hours, but perhaps that is a measure to justify the £45 price tag. Then again, what is the cost of entering wonderland? Parents — that’s one for you to decide.

Grimm Tales is at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, South Bank, SE1 9PS until 11 April 2015. Tickets cost £45 for an adult or £20 for under 16s and can be bought online. Suitable for ages 8+ (although there are moments of total darkness and some violent themes), comfy shoes and warm clothing recommended. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.