Guildford Shakespeare Company bring Grimms’ Fairy Tales to life in magical mirror tent – review

PUBLISHED: 11:08 12 October 2016 | UPDATED: 19:08 12 October 2016

The magical mirror tent hosting Guildford Shakespeare Company in Stoke Park (Photo: Chris Wilson)

The magical mirror tent hosting Guildford Shakespeare Company in Stoke Park (Photo: Chris Wilson)

CHRIS WILSON

Celebrating their 10th anniversary, Guildford Shakespeare Company heads into autumn with their seasonal move away from the Bard. This year, they’re tackling a medley of Grimms’ Fairy Tales in a rather unusual, even for them, setting in Stoke Park. Matthew Williams reports…

The Grimms' Fairy Tales cast playing out The Town Musicians of Bremen (Photo: Steve Porter)The Grimms' Fairy Tales cast playing out The Town Musicians of Bremen (Photo: Steve Porter)

A broken path recoils from the illuminated Guildford Cathedral beacon in the distance; headlights spin past, as unassuming drivers escape the night with the final miles of their commute; strangers congregate from the darkest corners of Stoke Park, all pulled towards an other worldly structure lurking at the most secluded end…

In my head, wolves are baying, witches are cackling and I’m desperately hoping this isn’t all connected to those ‘killer’ clowns that are suddenly grabbing the headlines. I hide behind two people who are clearly starting to become as suspicious of their invite as I am.

Suddenly, a voice trills out of the fairground nightmare ticket booth: “Hi Matt, how are you this evening? Welcome to our new home! Lovely, isn’t it?”

The night’s claustrophobia lifts as quickly as it had threatened to throttle, and the black clad woman in the shadows turns out to be Sarah Gobran, co-founder of the irrepressible Guildford Shakespeare Company.

She assures me that, yes, this is the venue for their production of Grimms’ Fairy Tales and, no, I’m not about to be ushered into some creatively camouflaged dungeon. Life returns to technicolour.

What I find in front of me is actually a rather marvellous thing indeed: it’s known as a spiegeltent, I’m told, a mobile dance hall of sorts that started life in the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium etc). I still half expect to see Scooby-Doo and the gang being chased out by some masked marauder, mind.

I’m already on the edge of my seat before I’ve even reached it, with a bottle of Hogs Back’s TEA from the bar to steady my nerves. In the round, anticipation and expectation quickly take hold. Something a little different is clearly about to take place inside this strange structure. Red linen seats; mirrored walls; roll up, roll up atmosphere envelops…

Rattling through 10 of the Grimms’ more than 200 tales must have seemed a daunting task at the start of the production cycle, but the Guildford Shakespeare Company team clearly took to the challenge with relish.

The beautifully paced evening spins out with a series of craftily designed stagings, wittily reworked scripts and a healthy dose of the ridiculous, always using the seemingly doomed sibling duo of Hansel and Gretel as a hook to keep things on track.

The so-talented-it-makes-you-wonder-about-your-wasted-youth cast of just five actors (Charlotte James, Andy Owens, Dominic Rye, Rosie Strobel and Amelia Zadarnowska) casts a spell over the audience from the opening accordion to the final song – they play some 40 characters between them across the evening, switching effortlessly.

There are dark, light and beautiful moments, as the full range of the Grimms’ emotional stories and characters are wrought out on the small stage and around the room, with some cracking Monthy Python-eque comedy thrown in.

The Matt Berry-like Big ‘Badminton’ Wolf in Little Red Cap, the ‘can’t catch a break’ hopelessness of the knight-in-training in Rapunzel and the ‘dreaming of centre stage’ wicked witch, in particular, still have me chuckling today. The portrayal of the elves in The Shoe Maker is inspired – barely there and yet scene stealing (it’s the little details, right?). Then there’s Rumpelstiltskin…! I could go on, and it’s the subtler moments that tie the whole thing together rather than the bombastic set pieces that have firmly implanted themselves in my brain.

It’s fast paced, smart, wonderfully acted and all in a location that really sells the magic. You’ll be talking about it - and remembering bits you thought you’d forgotten - for weeks. It’s that kind of show. I’m still smiling. Right, I’ve said enough…

• Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Grimms’ Fairy Tales runs until Sunday October 30, various times, at The Mirror Tent, Challengers’ Field, Burchatt’s Farm, Stoke Park, Guildford GU1 1TU. Tickets: adults, £25; children under 16, £16.50. For more information and tickets, visit guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

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Read on for more about Guildford Shakespeare Company’s 10th anniversary and history

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