Rumpelstiltskin: Totally Mad and Utterly Unique
Totally mad and utterly unique, Rumpelstiltskin is a freewheeling, flamboyant modern reinvention of the 4000 year old tale made classic by the Brothers Grimm. Fresh from her internationally successful feature film debut Girl Asleep, Windmill Theatre Co. director Rosemary Meyers turns her iconic talents once more to an exuberant children’s theatre installation, co-written with Julianne O’Brien, following on from their Helpmann Award winning collaboration in 2012’s Pinocchio.
From the first glance, the production’s inimitable brand of spectacular theatre is palpable. The radically updated fairy-tale begins with the memorable lines read from a story book, set against the layered intoxicating, idiosyncratic animation by Chris Edser and Jonathon Oxlade’s design. This surreal and magical world of illustration creates depth and life to the cautionary tale, which has been gutted, renovated and set to music, because why not? The story takes place in a surreal, German Expressionist setting, the actors are greatly melodramatic, the songs are catchy, retro pop numbers, the costumes heavily stylised, and the set is not built, but drawn and ever-changing. It’s transfixing, educating and exquisitely fun.
Although a technically complex show, the inventive narrative is always clear and expertly simple. With songs written by Jethro Woodward in styles borrowed from retro glam styles of the ‘70s and ‘80s, campy brilliance brings this story of desire and greed to life. The grisly essence of the Grimm’s tale of Rumpelstiltskin’s revenge is kept, though any fairy-tale archetypes are expanded with contemporary concerns and delivered with ingenious writing and farcical theatrics.
The original princess and goblin are transformed into a career-woman seeking success and a grotesque fashion-designer Rumpel who just wants to be loved. Stereotypes of the fairy-tale are subverted by the painfully realistic, victim-no-more Harriet, played by Ashton Malcolm, and Paul Capsis’ expertise in the lead role, pulling on our emotions as the script constantly turns the trope of good versus evil on its head. Capsis’ spellbinding breadth of talent and musical range is the standout, as he carries a historically diabolical part with the emphatic hilarity and empathy capable of winning over all members of the audience.
The fantastical twists and turns of Rumpelstiltskin are also captured by the fellow cast, with extravagance and silliness marking every lush movement. Alirio Zavarce’s outrageous rat is the children’s favourite, while Ezra Juanta steals the spotlight as a moon-walking baby, and Michaela Burger’s impossibly cute Tootie delivers the song of the night with glittering, and striking vocals.
Rumpelstiltskin’s meticulous construction and dark humour may be perceived by the adults, but to the children, this tale is one packed with mesmerising characters and a universal, resonant message of love trumping hate. With its frenetic creativity and brilliant wit, this show is an entirely fresh musical spin with heart. With an uproarious standing ovation on opening night, this stunning and highly original family production is set to take on the world stage, proving again what a force SA theatre is.
Written by Hannah Lally
Review first appeared on Glam Adelaide