The smell of watermelon surprised me. I did not arrive with the expectation of olfactory engagement, but Grimm’s audiences experiencing the piece will be acutely aware of their bodies throughout. The jarring contrast between the chilling shudders andwarm belly laughs punctuating fast dialogue is a hallmark of this finely crafted piece of new writing. In a distinctly modern setting, Grimm has done justice to the unsettling gore of these familiar fairytales in their truest form, unsullied by Disney and Dorling Kindersley. By doing so, the production perhaps reveals the reason we have been drawn to these stories for so long; far from providing light childhood entertainment, they expose us for what we are – flesh, weak and vulnerable.
The six-strong cast deliver a subtle and unflinching performance, seamlessly transitioning between an array of characters. The play’s treatment of the real and imagined, while underscored by provocative sound and lighting, comes into its own by the cast’s immaculately executed vocal characterisations. There is no going off stage and coming back on as someone else – the audience know, instantly, that context and characters have changed purely through exceptional acting. The interplay between recorded audio and the actors faltered very occasionally, but overall was used to great effect, particularly in the scenes in which popular music was strikingly incorporated into the folklore.
Physical theatre is undoubtedly difficult to do. If it fails to express something unique – something which would have been corrupted by dialogue or left unsaid by staging – the choreography comes across as smug and unnecessary. However, Grimm’s physicality was as effortless as it was exquisitely disturbing. Grotesque acts of cannibalism are impossible on a stage with a fringe budget. But the horror was unleashed through realistic movements and intelligent use of seemingly innocuous props, demonstrating the adage that it is that which we don’t see, but imagine, that can become the most unsettling. I may never be able to eat a watermelon the same way.