28 October 2017

Rumpelstiltskin by Ballet Lorent (Northern Stage)


I've been looking forward to seeing Ballet Lorent in action for a while (I can't quite figure out how I missed their previous productions of Rapunzel and Snow White), and the moment I saw the stage I knew that I was in for a magical night. In turbulent, confusing times we can find comfort in traditional stories and fairytales, even the darker ones which often deal with light overcoming darkness in the end. I'm constantly on the lookout for escapism to counterbalance the distressing news and the stresses and strains of modern life in an increasingly fast-paced technological world (it's no surprise that adults are increasingly turning to children's books for comfort). 

You'll be enthralled by the magical choreography
I only realised after the performance when I had the chance to read the programme that the classic Grimm Brothers fairytale, based on a 4,000 year old story had been retold by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy (I was lucky enough to met her last year at Niddfest). It's great that someone so in demand found the time to collaborate with the company and make the story more accessible to the audience.  There is so much creative talent involved in the production - the music is composed by Murray Gold (who composed the music for Doctor Who's 2005 revival), the rich and hugely detailed costumes are designed by BAFTA winning costume designer Michele Clapton and the ethereal set is designed by Phil Eddolls (a veteran of over 300 productions).  You're very quickly pulled into a colourful, multi-layered world with wool, knitting and traditional methods of producing materials at its heart (look out for the dancers creating giant plaits and the ladies from Benwell showing the children how to knit).

Young Rumpeltiltskin and his sheep friends
I meant to familiarise myself with the story beforehand but I was pushed for time. Luckily the excellent narration by Ben Crompton kept us all up to speed (even though there was one section with a large gap in the narration and I got a bit lost). The story starts with a King (John Kendall) and his Golden Queen (Maria Vincentelli) in love, playfully scaling and circling their castle topped with his and hers thrones. We're introduced to a Shepherd (Toby Fitzgibbons) whose sheep provides the wool for the Kingdom. The Queen decides she wants a child but tragedy strikes, and the heartbroken King is left to bring up the "strange youth" named Rumplestiltskin (beautifully played by Gavin Coward) alone (Kendall does a great job at showing his grief through movement) and eventually banishes him from the castle to live in the wild.

The blissfully happy King and Queen before tragedy strikes
He strikes up a friendship with the Shepherd's daughter (Natalie Trewinnard) but is ostracised by the other subjects. The Queen's love from beyond the grave enables him to turn ordinary objects into gold. Each month the subjects attempt to cheer up the King (to no avail) who becomes obsessed with treasure and material possessions. As a result of the Shepherd's bravado, the King believes the Shepherd's daughter can spin straw into gold and threatens to kill the Shepherd's flock if she doesn't produce the gold he covets. Cue Rumpelstiltskin saving the day (or does he)?

Turning straw into gold (I loved the projection of the spinning wheel onto the background)
A lot of the charm of the show was due to the community cast - eight children aged between four and nine years old and four over 65s were chosen to perform with the professional dancers as part of a Performance and Participation Project. The children and older ladies played a big part in the celebratory scenes and it was heartwarming to watch them dance and interact with the professional dancers (even though at points I thought there were too many performers on the stage at once). Despite all of the great movement I'm sure I'm not the only person to leave thinking that the cute lambs and sheep absolutely stole the show. The children and dancers did a great job of mimicking them jumping and frolicking and the possibility of them being slaughtered if the shepherd's daughter couldn't spin the straw into gold was particularly horrifying (kudos to Carol Ann Duffy for including sheep in the story). In terms of the choreography and dance it was more contemporary than traditional ballet (I thoroughly enjoyed Gwen Berwick dancing en pointe and there's a moment with a sheep that's just amazing) and I would have liked to see more ballet. I loved the symbolism of the gold as a metaphor for love and the scenes where gold was flickering through the air were stunning (I actually got goosebumps). Despite the production being more child-friendly than previous Ballet Lorent productions, audience members of all ages will be captivated and mesmerised by this moving and opulent retelling of a classic fairytale.

The Shepherd's daughter (Natalie Trewinnard) and Rumpelstiltskin (Gavin Coward) rejoicing in gold
Get tickets for the Saturday night performance at Northern Stage here (the performance is in two acts of forty minutes with a twenty minute interval).

Find out more about the national tour here (the tour will run from March to November 2018 - dates to be announced soon)

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