“Grimm tales go back to basics”

What a cheerful evening! Take tales by the Brothers Grimm, with their weird folk stories and their gruesome endings and turn them into pure entertainment.

That is what the Thursday Group, a section of the Lytton Youth Theatre in Stevenage proceeded to do with five of the narratives that were originally adapted and dramatised for the Young Vic company in London.

Two hundred years ago the two German brothers wrote some of the most famous fairy tales ever, more than 200 in all.

Over the years since, pantomimes and politically correct adaptors, and especially Walt Disney, have sugared these fictions. Grimm Tales goes back to the original texts and tell the true versions. They are definitely not suitable for smaller members of the family – they could provoke nightmares.

For instance, not many people know that Cinderella’s two sisters eventually had both eyes plucked out by birds and became blind beggars.

This sort of macabre ending loosely joins together all five of the well-known and much-loved stories selected and directed by veteran producer and youth leader Dave Slade. The bad all end very unhappily. As well as Ashputtel (the original Cinderella) the programme included Little Red Cap (Red Riding Hood, with the wolf’s innards being loaded with stones after surgically freeing her and her grannie from his belly), Snow White (the wicked queen being made to dance till she died) and Hansel and Gretel (a very, very funny final piece, with the witch popped into her own oven and burned to a crisp). In the Golden Goose, which started the evening on the right farcical note, everyone ended up stuck together like superglue when a goose feather was stolen. The Lytton Players are extremely lucky to have such a lively and talented pool of acting talent to call on for their future productions. Ten young people – chosen according to the programme from the main youth group for their age and experience as well as their maturity – between them took more than 50 separate roles, including taking turns as narrator. The casting was very democratic, with no-one taking all the key parts. It was ensemble work at its best, something not always seen in amateur shows. And they enjoyed the experience, overcoming some initial problems with the narration when speed of deliver was mistaken for pace. How much of the black humour and the business came from the scripts by Tim Supple at the Young Vic, or from the theatrical expertise of Mr Slade, or from the cast it is impossible to say – almost certainly a combination of all three. To judge from the witty information given in the programme by the actors on their colleagues I suspect the latter with their inspired improvisations made a large contribution to the originality of the occasion. As no one actor stood out from the rest of the cast it is only fair to name and congratulate them all in alphabetical order: Richard Absalom, Michelle Airey, Sophie Ashby, Natalie Comar, Stef Dakakni, Amy-Jo Humphreys, Billy Humphreys, Jenna Lewis, Grace Maynard and Helen Smith. The technical crew was provided by the main company.

Leonard Rogers – The Mercury, 4th June 2004 Reproduced by kind permission of the Hertfordshire Mercury