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Grimm and bear it: Celebrated fairy tales to take centre stage at Festival

After delighting (and scaring) us for hundreds of years, the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales are getting the Shake & Stir treatment

Shake & Stir is bringing the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm to this year's Brisbane Festival.

Shake & Stir is bringing the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm to this year's Brisbane Festival.

Heidi Maier

It has been 212 years since two brothers from Germany first published the fairy tales that made them famous. Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood and many others have since become classics.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm kept adding colourful stories to their collection, and by the time they released their seventh edition 45 years later the volume had bloomed to a staggering 200 tales and 10 children’s legends.

Today, Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm contains many of the most famous fairy tales in the world and has been translated into countless languages. What began as an attempt to collect German folk and fairy tales for posterity has become a cultural treasure belonging to all of us and a potent, ceaseless source of inspiration for generations of writers, artists and filmmakers around the world.

Among the latest to be inspired by the shadow-laden, unsettling and richly evocative stories of the Brothers Grimm is Brisbane theatre ensemble Shake & Stir, whose latest production, Grimm: Tales From the Brothers Grimm, premieres in the Cremorne Theatre at QPAC at this year’s Brisbane Festival from August 31.

Drawing together a diverse selection of the original fairy tales, the play endeavours to not only tell the original stories but to examine these within the contemporary context of modern morality and mores, revealing them to be as potent and relevant today as they were 200 years ago.

Asked to explain the inspiration behind her adaptation of the fairy tales, Shake & Stir actor and writer and co-artistic director Nelle Lee laughs and takes a deep breath.

“I feel as if I’ve been carrying this play around inside of me for years and years,” Lee says. “I’ve been thinking about it for a really long time. I became really obsessed with some of the original stories and the history behind them, really researching into that and uncovering where they really came from. The Disney-fication of them, so to speak, really fascinated me.

“I think we all grew up with these stories, but many people grew up with them really sanitised and watered down and slimmed down. Once I knew the original stories and the stories behind them, I was deeply interested and thought it would make an interesting basis for me to write something and, in that sense, it’s been on my radar for many years.”

Shake & Stir has a long, proud history of producing acclaimed literary adaptations for the stage. Past productions include plays based on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, as well as Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Fantastic Mr. Fox, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts.

Lee co-adapted both Dracula and Animal Farm for the company. Still, she says that adapting the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm involved “quite a different creative process” to that of adapting the novels.

“The novels gave more of a structural framework of material with which to work, and a lot of dialogue, whereas I was coming at this from a different perspective because I wanted to not only adapt the fairy tales but also interweave aspects of the history and culture related to them as well.

“It’s less of a faithful adaptation than, say, Frankenstein or Dracula, but once I’d extracted the dialogue and worked on the characters, I could see how it was all evolving and that’s the thing that’s exciting but also kind of scary – that it is still evolving, even now, at this late stage.”

It is hard to imagine a time when the world – from children’s books to literature to movies to everyday conversational quips – was not saturated in the persistent, robust legacy of fairy tales. They have become pervasive code words in popular culture, where “beware the wolf” or “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince” or even just the name “Cinderella” delivers meaning everybody understands.

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The Grimm’s influence has not been solely literary, but also visual. Their fairy tales were a vital engine for a whole new calibre of artistic activity within German and the broader European society. When the tales were published, they caught the attention of those who were already primed and sensitive to fantasy, craft and creating imaginary worlds – visual artists.

For Lee and Grimm’s director, Daniel Evans, the visual culture associated with the fairy tales was key to successfully creating and realising their stage adaptation. Lee says that while she was adapting the stories for the stage, she had in mind a very specific trove of visual imagery and a layered, dark, “almost malevolent” aesthetic to accompany and embody her words.

“I very much had in mind a strong cabaret, almost burlesque vibe for the staging of the show, and that even extends to the venue, the Cremorne Theatre,” she says. “It’s very intimate and really brings the actors and the audience together, almost to the point of being in one another’s faces and that brings another element to the production. These stories are dark and I didn’t want that to be forgotten or erased. I wanted to bring that kind of element to the fore.”

Key to embodying and communicating that darkness, so inherent in the original fairy tales underlying themes, will be the production’s all-important stage design and costumes.

In order to best capture the aesthetic she had in mind, Lee and the company turned to acclaimed indigenous fashion designer Paul McCann and says that she is “beyond excited” for audiences to see “how deep and dark and gorgeous what he has created is going to be”.

“It’s all going to look beautiful and hopefully people will be wowed.”

GRIMM: Tales From the Brothers Grimm, August 31 to October 5, Cremorne Theatre, QPAC; qpac.com.au

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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