‘Rumpelstiltskin’ review

Theatre, Children's
3 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(13user reviews)
Rumpelstiltskin, Southbank Centre 20918
© Shane Reid

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Overblown Aussie take on the beloved fairytale

The traditional, Grimm-style ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ is a properly dark fairytale about greed and vanity, triggered by a father whose boastfulness results in the imprisonment and forced marriage of his daughter, followed by the abduction of her child by a goblin. Perhaps understandably, then, this family friendly(ish) version, a co-production by Windmill Theatre Co and State Theatre Company South Australia, takes a few strands of the older folk story and spins them in a new direction.

From the original’s ‘straw into gold’ schtick, we now get reclusive fashion designer Rumpelstiltskin (Paul Capsis), rejected by his parents because of his appearance. Harriet (Sheridan Harbridge), a girl from a poor background, is determined to make it in the big city. She falls for the airheaded actor hired to pretend to be Rumpelstiltskin in public and unwittingly rejects the original, while giving up everything as ‘credit’ so he’ll grant her greedy wishes.

Designer Jonathon Oxlade’s production has a distinctly Baz Luhrmann and Tim Burton vibe. It’s a pointy, pop-art confection of angles and primary colours, set against a swirling backdrop evocative of the psychedelic titular set from ’60s TV show ‘The Time Tunnel’. A host of projected animations and some nicely stylised movement direction all add to the heightened freneticism.    

Watching it is akin to a sugar rush and the live band is great, a swaggering extra character just off stage. Seasoned cabaret star Capsis gives an elastic, uncanny performance as Rumpelstiltskin, impish yet vulnerable. He hits surreal corners of characterisation at full speed. He’s like a Dr Seuss character come to life, coloured with shades of a slightly less scary Child Catcher.

And yet there’s something emptily calorific about director and co-writer (with Julianne O’Brien) Rosemary Myers’s production. Overblown ballads about family and togetherness sit awkwardly alongside the show’s spikier cabaret impulses. And while Harbridge is funny as Harriet, her character arc is messy.

Nevertheless, this rendition of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ is a fun alternative if you’re not a fan of panto at this time of year. It’s brimming with imagination and hashtag-sharp in places. And when Harriet’s baby steps into the spotlight, it’s the start of a ‘Wacky Races’-style sequence that will slam you headlong into Christmas.

By: Tom Wicker



Users say (13)

3 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.7 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:6
  • 2 star:4
  • 1 star:1
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The storyline was a butchery of a beautiful classic fairytale and the humour was so over the top, it was grotesque. However, the costumes, visual effects, props and songs were colourful and fun – my 6 year old cousin (even though she had no clue what was going on) enjoyed it because of this. The acting and singing were very good too, however, the storyline is not Rumpelstiltskin at all - it came across more as a thinly veiled attack on women who dare to desire an escape from poverty and reject the advances of men they are not attracted to. There was even a line in the play - when the baby was snatched and the “ambitious” female character was in great distress which was; "well, no one likes a goldigger". This seemed unnecessary and off the mark.

The “happy” ending was totally warped. The “ambitious” woman who marries the fake Rumpelstiltskin suddenly gets with the real Rumpelstiltskin, despite the fact that throughout the play, he constantly threatens to send her back to a life of poverty and snatches her baby. This apparently makes her fall in love with him after supposedly learning the errors of her ways – i.e being a “goldigger” – as a direct result of him kidnapping her child. It didn’t make much sense and it just seemed like it was written by someone who has a bizarre view of themselves and the world. It seemed they were trying to portray Rumpelstiltskin as a character we should feel sorry for (because his parents reject him – the story of their treatment of him also changed half way through) and feel happy that he gets the girl he wants at the end, despite being full of misguided malice.

None of the characters had any actual character, which gave the play an unsatisfactory and empty kind of feeling. If the characters were stronger with any degree of assertiveness, the storyline would have made more sense and been easier for children to follow - so it had the potential to be an interesting play (even if the focus of the storyline was all wrong) but it wasn’t.

They totally misundertood the story of Rumpelkstilskin and the more positive message of a humble person who overcomes all the horrible situations forced upon her by other people and goes on to live as a queen with a happy family life anyway.

It was fun and visually stimulating for my 6 year old cousin because she didn’t get what was going on but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who might actually follow it and pick up the misguided message.


I went to the show with an open mind, not expecting anything. The set itself was already very modern, which in my books, was a great start. When all the visual effects started I started getting quite excited! I found initial dialogues between characters quite out there and was wondering how the children watching it are finding it, but personally, my friend and I found it very amusing and shared quite a few giggles. Main character, Rumpelstiltskin was flamboyant and hilarious! More than children’s story, this is a show suited to grown ups and brilliant social commentary.


I half remembered this story from my childhood and it seems that the story is told slightly different in every locale and culture. This one is no different, set in a fashion house where a girl will give anything to rise to the top and get fame and fortune. Unfortunately for her she chooses to give her future prize possession to a magical goblin she meets along the way which in turn leaves her desperate to break the spell and get it back. Colourful and with some great tunes, funny and movement moments, and not too long at about an hour per half, it amused me to the end. Particular note goes to the clever projections around the stage that aided changing every scene and to the very small live musical accompaniment, sometimes with members of the cast taking to the side of the stage to play instruments when they weren't on the stage acting. A big production for such a small cast and worth a watch whether you have kids or not. 


There are many fairy tales and their interpretations showing over Christmas around the city.

I expected that Rumpelstiltskin, showing in Queen Elizabeth hall will be witty and entertaining.

The staging is fab with animations projected onto a series of arches creating an evolving 'fortune'. The show is a bit confused though. They tried too hard to accommodate it to the older children audience but adding hashtags, slang and social media references is not enough.

The second part was funnier and faster moving than the first one.

The moral of the well-known story "Be careful what you wish for"


Rumpel is a good-natured family show that lacks in finishing touches to make it a well-rounded production.

The set was great (notably the use of lightning and stage design). The cast was incredible, being able to act, sing and even play some instruments while in the pit. But the story-telling left a lot to be desired. A bit rough, it's impossible to see clearly what the morale of the story is supposed to be. Which is the reason why (I think) so many were left disappointed... 


This show is very marmite as you can see from other reviews. We weren’t really sure what to expect. It’s certainly not a traditional panto and it’s very quirky. I thought the set and lighting were excellent and some of the vocals were outstanding particularly Tootie. The band were great and I loved how the actors were playing instruments in the pit when not on stage. The story did feel a bit disjointed and some of the songs were difficult to understand. Overall, I enjoyed it just because it was so different and I thought the modern retelling of an old classic was cleverly done. However, my partner didn’t like it at all and just thought it was too weird. I think if you approach it with a completely open mind and are looking for something very different then it’s not a bad way to spend an evening. It’s certainly not one that will appeal to everyone.


I have never walked out of a theatrical performance so far, but I just could not gel with Rumpelstiltskin. Given the time of the year, I was hoping for something light and entertaining. Given it is positioned as a modern take on a classic fairytale, I was expecting something similar to Matilda or Billie Elliot. However what I got was something completely haphazard, overly complicated. It was too dark for the kids in the theatre and too unstructured for the adults. 

The reason for such a harsh review is that if I was talking to anyone about it, I really don't know what to say. I would not recommend any of my friends to go watch it ,and I don't think it's appropriate for families with kids either. 


The staging and graphics were very good as were the sound and lighting cues, singing voices were strong and the Queen Elizabeth Hall is also clean and comfortable.

The modern twist on this classic fairy tale however was too abstract and just a bit weird. It felt juvenile but didn't seem to be something the kids were following. This didn't feel like an amateur performance but it just didn't work.


A modern take on a fairytale classic, Rumpelstiltskin appears at Southbank this Christmas aimed at all ages. The show features a small cast and stage but uses creative lighting and set design to bring the story to life.

From the outset the show strives to be different to your average pantomime but maintains a few tell-tale traits – bright costumes, 4th wall interaction and comedy are present throughout.

Perhaps due to the Aussie production team, the show was more stylish and quirky than any pantomime I had seen before and that helped keep it entertaining for the 2-hour runtime.

One unavoidable handicap was the venue – it absolutely had the feel of a conference auditorium. Large speakers carried the performance around the hall, but the abundance of wooden surfaces meant that I could clearly hear the people several rows behind me muttering. The stage wasn’t large either and it would have been more immersive to see them fully utilise the space available.

Despite these drawbacks the loud and colourful show did have entertaining moments, and the use of lighting to energise scenes was creative. I’d advise getting seats near the front for the best experience.

The story progresses rapidly and adventures develop quickly, as you would expect from a show aimed at kids. The performances were decent and some singing voices were outstanding but the songs themselves were a mixed bag. We were certainly not humming them on the way home.

Despite there being less interaction than the average pantomime everyone was happy to shout out when the moments arose, and children in the audience definitely seemed entertained. 

The show left a little to be desired, but if you’re looking for something different for the family this Christmas then this is the show for you.


Hmmmmm. We didnt know what to expect, some speculated panto, some speculated a bit Matthew Bourne. What you do get is a cacophony of sounds, bright lights, awesome projections and a talented cast. Its a modern take on an old fairytale which did work well although at points I was totally lost with what was going on. 

I was going to only give this 2 stars but in the second half a few children moved down and sat on our row and I enjoyed stealing a glance at them. They were loving it and it was a hit with them. Perhaps Im just too much of an adult who wanted structure. Perfect for older kids who like dark humour.


2.5 stars....

I came super excited to relive this childhood story. Even though I knew it would be predominantly aimed at children I didn't think it would be this..... Weird.

It was just weird... A modern twist on the original story which didn't go down too well with me personally.

The cast had amazing vocals which was a pleasant surprise, the set was also interesting. The use of technology and projection was nice but the songs weren't catchy and they screamed random sounds throughout the play.

Disappointed would be the word I'm looking for here. I left disappointed.


When you decide to see a production of a children's story at this time of year, you almost know what you will be getting.But in this case, not quite. The with a merging of talent of the Windmill Theatre Company and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, this story has a different vibe.Less traditional English panto. The seven strong cast plus a small band standing by the side of the stage , make a good musical sound. Rumpelstiltskin is still the magical creature handing out wishes in exchange for outrageous returns.But the original miller's daughter becomes a poverty-stricken young woman who wants to make her fortune and begins by working in a beauty salon..The set looks deceptively plain but once projected images appear. windows open and trap doors flip up, it all becomes more interesting. However, it didn't have a wow factor and I didn't leave thinking the performance and show in general was amazing. It was good enough and children will enjoy it.


Oh dear. What shoots for Tim Burton kooky lands somewhere just outside of Lazy Town kitsch. And very camp.

I sat scratching my head for the entire first half wondering who this was meant to appeal to. The inventive rollercoaster-cum-ferris wheel stage with animated projections is impressive, but unintelligible pop songs (boasting such lyrics as “A pebble and a plum, plum plum plum”) would leave a pre-schooler bored. While it’s a different take on the original story of Rumpelstiltskin, it’s almost so novel as to bear little resemblance. Is that for a more grown up audience? Or is it meant to be a modern retelling for the kids too cool for bedtime stories and the pantomime this almost becomes? And why are all the wigs made of plastic!?

By the interval I needed a stiff drink so made a swift exit and lived happily ever after.