A high-class – if high-cost – night of storytelling, based on Philip Pullman's 'Grimm Tales for Old and Young'
The scariest thing about these six short adaptations of the Brothers Grimm’s more off-piste fairytales is the price tag: £45 is a hell of a lot to fork out for what is, essentially, a fairly stripped-back evening of high class but no frills storytelling.
Not that you can’t see where the money’s going: the show’s new South Bank home the Bargehouse has been ravishingly decked out, the floors deep with blackened wood chip, the walls covered in incongruous jumbles of old furniture, the ceilings covered in arrays of antique lighting. And there are more stories – and all completely different stories – than when it premiered at Shoreditch Town Hall last Easter. Plus the show retains the endorsement of the great fantasy writer Philip Pullman, whose spare, accessible adaptation of the nineteenth century source material forms the basis for adaptor-director Philip Wilson’s production.
And on its own terms, ‘Grimm Tales’ is a great night and a great success, each of the stories relayed with love and invention by the two casts dotted about the Bargehouse. There’s a similar formula to each tale: though there are actors assigned to each role, the stories are mostly narrations, with the ensembles sharing the job of describing what’s going on even as they act it out. It’s a very pleasing way of doing it: the shared storytelling is affable and intimate and also, I’d say, pretty much essential in explaining what the heck is going on in these morally eccentric fables for ages eight and above (though it feels focussed on the adult audience).
Everyone will know ‘Hansel & Gretel’, but the rest will presumably be unfamiliar to non-fairytale buffs. My favourite was the first, ‘The Three Little Men in the Woods’, a simple but slightly psychotic morality tale about a pair of stepsisters who treat three inscrutable dwarves – charmingly rendered as puppets – with drastically differing levels of politeness, and who receive their just deserts in deliciously extreme turns. But the standard is high throughout, and the unfamiliarity of the tales is actually quite the plus: the twists and turns of this strange, harsh medieval lore is endearingly impossible to predict – you would have to be really high on something to predict where ‘Thousandfurs’ or ‘Faithful Johannes’ end up.
So yes: it costs a lot to travel back to this time of desperate poverty, but it’s a strong show, a lovely venue, and really it’s not for me to judge the depth of your wallet. Certainly regular Time Out readers will be aware that there are far grimmer ways to spend £45 in London.
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Firstly, although told that the 19:15 slot would start at 19:30 we were not actually shown through to anything until nearly 19:55, although nothing was said to this effect and this was not reflected in the description online or upon entrance. We visited the toilets after entering, after being delayed by a member of staff adamant that we should purchase a book, to find that they were unpleasantly dirty, some were broken with sharp edges and there appeared to be no one checking if toilet roll was in adequate supply.
We queued for the bar whilst waiting – with only one person serving despite the vast amount of people present – only to find that a £2 cola was in fact only half a bottle. We then tried to find somewhere suitable to sit, as one member of our group is allergic to hay, only to find that it was everywhere so even when standing it was still causing great irritation. There was absolutely no warning of this, despite how common this allergy and/or hay fever is, at the venue or on the website/ticket site – even in the medical section of the FAQs.
I have thoroughly checked through all descriptions of the performance, including the FAQs, and although guided through by staff we only saw four performances instead of five. Upon entering the fourth performance space we asked a member of staff if we were in the right place as the room was a mix of black and green wristbands and were just told “yes”. As the performance finished and we were told to wander around the building – with no signs to ensure we could explore anything – we asked if that was the last story as we only saw four and were simply asked to move on. So the duration of “approximately 155 minutes plus interval and wandering time” was definitely not met.
I also do not understand how this was described as ‘immersive’ theatre as opposed to ‘walkthrough’ theatre, or how the ticket price was justified when there were so many people in a group that it was more like a stop-start tour with large crowds where you are actually unable to see and hear everything.
Fantastic! I took my 8 year old daughter last Sunday to see Grimm Tales. We really enjoyed the stories and especially the venue. Loved that we could explore the 3 floors and see up close all the different sets.
The hanging gold ceiling, and the arches made from chairs and lamps, and the hidden clock room really helped make this experience fantastic.
We are looking forward to their next production and would highly recommend Grimm Tales.
If you come to London and expect to see a polished, predictable piece of West End fare, then this, as
many of the commentators on this site suggest, will be a disappointment. I loved it. Unusual and intriguing use of an unconventional performance space. This created freedom and challenge to director, designer and actor. It looked and felt like a haunted, breathing installation. The five tales were executed in quick fire fashion with a good blend of humour and the macabre. The event was packed with detail - subtle shifts in sound as you ventured into a different part of the barge house. If theatre concerns the imagination, reinventing and challenging our perceptions, then this is up there at the top. The run has been extended to March, so those of you that can't take the cold have no excuse. Go and see this show, before the witch eats you.
I have to say I was very disappointed by this show, after hearing such great reviews of it. The first thing is that it is billed as immersive theatre, when in reality it is not immersive in the slightest, but could better be described as a walk-about performance (at no point did any of the actors interact with the audience while in character, something which I see as a baseline for immersive theatre). The stories we saw, while nice enough and with attractive sets and costumes, never did anything particularly spectacular. Both the style of performance and the themes of the stories were very similar throughout, which left if all feeling very samey, there were no real changes in mood or tone and I didn't feel like I was taken on any sort of journey. I kept expecting something different to happen but it never did. I also think it would have been massively improved by having fewer people per showing (me and my sister were commenting that they must be making a killing considering how many people were there and how much tickets were)
Having said that, the set and costume design was stunning, the witch in Hansel and Gretal was terrifyingly brilliant, and the mulled wine was possibly the tastiest I've ever tried.
We were excited about the performance and impressed with the spooky weird surreal building. However there was no explanation as to what was going to happen so we were constantly left not knowing what was going on.
I asked one of the 'helpers' if we would be able to sit down ( I am 60) and she said that some people would be able to and that she couldn't say anything as it was a 'surprise'. Time booked for 7.00 but nothing happened until 7.35. We did not get 'The Band'. The 'Surprise' was that I had spent almost £150 to see a performance where we sometimes had to stand , sit on very hard sharp benches, or barely be able to see at all! I think the organisation and care of the audience was zilch.
Maybe that was the point! ? My personal feelings of some level of anxiety possibly enhanced the atmosphere and darkness of the GrimmsTales.
We did really enjoy the immersive quality and also liked the crazy props - balls of green string for apples???
A little basic but excellent acting and story telling that overcame the discomfort.
I have to say although I enjoyed it I was glad when it was over and able to sit on a comfortable seat in the tube.
Over priced event that seemd to be aimed at children 4-8 years old despite stating that production not suitable for anyone under 8 . At £45 very poor value for money. We were in a group of about 80 people herded like cattle from room to room in the cold. Unbelievably there were not enough seats for all the people.. so about 25 people were standing in each room that led everyone to rush to get a seat. In the intermission we were left packed in a room with sawdust floor for half an hour like animals off to market. The performances were week like a poor infantile school production. Nothing dark or menancing that might be expected from the brothers Grimm. Also given the price of ticket £45! they could have spent some money on some props instead of trying to be "funny?" by using scrap yard junk whenever they can..... Dont bother going!
A total waste of time and money. We spent hundreds of pounds on our annual family trip to London to see a show taking eight people travelling from Shrewsbury for the day.
From the start it was a disaster, from being told to wait in a freezing cold room for 40 minutes before it started to wishing that it would end so you could leave. The band were mediocre at best. The actual plays were non- events with no variation in delivery or pace. Four members in our party never got to sit down and at £45 per ticket I think that is extortionate!
We were all so cold by the end of it that it has taken us a whole day to get warm again and we felt ill afterwards. I would press for a complete refund if I could. It did not deliver what we were led to believe from the publicity.
Very disappointing, we left halfway through. We stood around for 45 minutes outside, and then another 20 minutes inside in a hot and very crowded tiny room. Then the show itself started, which involved being herded between small rooms while out-of-character actors keep yelling at you to hurry up.
The acting was amateurish at best, there wasn't much to see. The fairytale retellings seemed to be done for small children, they were boring, overly simplified, and utterly lacking in any kind of depth, reflection, or even the morale that is more clear in Grimm and Perrault.
We were unable to sit for any of it because there wasn't enough seating. Some we couldn't see a single thing over the heads of the crowds (and we're fairly tall, the crowd was 5-people thick because they let too many people into small rooms). After nearly 3 hours of standing, we managed to escape, deeply regretting our decision to pay this much.
Alisa D's review sounds pretty similar to our experience, except we didn't even get the band to entertain us at the beginning. Might also be worth mentioning that there only seemed to be three toilets in the building. Not three bathrooms with multiple toilets, but literally three toilets for men and women to share.
The first time I left part-way through a show.
On arrival, we got directed to a room upstairs. It was gorgeously decorated - but then nothing happened.
We just stood around, quite crammed. Finally. a three piece band appeared for a fun performance lasting several minutes. Once they left I thought ah-ha, the actual performance is about to begin. The audience stood around in a circle in expectation. Ten minutes of so later we were advised this is just waiting time.
After this half an hour of nothingness, we were herded to a different room for the first show. It was okay. We then got herded to another room (with insufficient seats). The second show was okay.
We then changed rooms again and stood in another expectant circle, before realising this was another non-happening room. After half an hour of standing in a tube-like density, we decided it was time to go.
To sum up: out of the almost two hours there, something was happening for only forty minutes - with a mass re-location half way. Most disappointingly of all, the two shows I did see just did not capture the magic of fairytales and storytelling.
By the end of it, not only did I not care they cancelled two out of six tales (one of the actors was indisposed) , it was not even worthwhile staying for the two remaining ones.
Great entertainment and fun. The Grimm World created is truly spectacular and the stories told allow you to bring them to life in your own individual way. Costumes, music, lighting and finally the superb storytelling by the cast make it a wonderful evening of entertainment fro a whole evening and great value! Go see for yourself!
It sounds lovely, but the first thing parents and grandparents need to know is for what ages is a show suitable. I have four grandchildren between 4 and 9 - will it be too scary for the four-year-old? Or too childish for the nine-year-olds? Even when there is a critic's review of a show, this information is not given. I can't book until I know this. Anne