Reconciling my inner drive to create thought provoking theatre, to challenge our thoughts and perceptions, with my enduring love of myth and escapism providing ultimately a sense of wellbeing and security has often proved, quite rightly, a battle.
It seems both confusing and liberating to thrive and endure on pushing your theatrical art, your actors and your directing skills whilst clutching to a familiar love to play; to explore and laugh; to not give a damn; and create a form of pantomime rather than a thinking man’s theatre.
So here is a conundrum….a fairytale set to tour in the festive season that is in your head absolutely not Pantomime and yet would not dare to reject the subtle, and beautiful historic theatrical technique of age old Pantomime, which when translated from its Greek origins quite aptly reads ‘imitator of all’.
Does this piece ‘imitate’ for me? Yes. And almost automatically, without thinking I was processing a piece of theatre through my recent experiences with motherhood. I was writing a fairytale for my two children, I was writing as a mother, as a protector, and as someone who wanted to soothe the end of a hectic day with a story of make believe told in a lyrical tongue to lull the soul to sleep.
In 2003 I performed in and co-directed a small rural tour of The Grimm Tales adapted by Tim Supple and Carol Ann Duffy – it will remain one of my all time favourite theatrical experiences. So when I met with Jane McKell Artistic Director of AsOne Theatre Company to discuss the next project for its AsCend graduate platform set up in 2013 – to give first hand professional tour experience to newly graduated theatre degree students – I was eagerly encouraged to once again delve into the world of fairytale.
As with Grimm Tales, I knew I had to focus in on the nitty-gritty of folk tale. I am someone who needs to create dramatic sensory experience and get the synapses firing, whilst steering clear of any sickly sweet modern pantomimic technique which – to be blunt – has mostly lost touch with its deep European heritage.
So my search to a greater extent was to find a story that I could really get my teeth into.
Fairytale has a form, it immediately reaches out to a younger audience through its use of simple language, an echolalia of storytelling that engages and transfixes. It takes them into a space which says ‘It’s safe to be here’ so just look, listen and absorb.
What’s most interesting is that it will do exactly that to adult audience also…and almost more intensely and with more need. Oscar Wilde believed in and wrote many of his lesser known fairytales based on the knowledge that adults need to escape, that the catharsis, from the Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning “purification” or “cleansing” of emotions —especially pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion can result in renewal and restoration.
We need escapism. And this day and age we need it more than ever.
I have spent many a physical theatre lesson teaching ‘stock character’, it is a staple and at times to me has become a bore but…who among us did not love the idea of being a princess or a prince charming in our dressing-up-box-youth? Once the fairytale has engaged with our inner child it moves on to teach us a lesson, a moral, in many cases. Whether child or adult, we always need reminded of morals, often times we don’t know this until art presents the message to us on a plate.
Cinderella will teach us not to judge a book by its cover, Little Red Riding Hood will teach us to wary of strangers and so on. If you look hard enough, in most fairytales of our youth, a lesson will always be found.
So it became hugely interesting to me when I informally asked my friends and acquaintances on a social media site the question – which fairytales they remembered most from childhood? The most frequent answer was Hans Christian Andersens ‘The Tinderbox’ a story totally missing in any moral or social code whatsoever.
So what was it that made this tale so appealing? For me, it was a heady-mix of very strong stock characters (Princess, Prince) but absolutely no moral message – so……. given space to look at these characters, relate them to people we know as both child and adult and then through the play we find the message. And when we find the message we can re-word and rework fairytale history. Say the things that Hans Christian Andersen never said implicitly but is inevitably in the subtext.