Rumpelstiltskin, directed by Rosemary Myers and Paul Capsis, is a captivating modern take on the Grimm Brother’s original fairytale, about an imp-like creature who makes a deal with a miller’s daughter, spinning straw into gold in return for her valuables. Co-produced by Windmill Theatre Company and State Theatre Company South Australia, this contemporary rendition tells the story of Harriet Stack, a young woman craving success in the city. Overwhelmed by the demands of the fashion world, she meets designer Rumpelstiltskin along the way. Harriet’s ego and drive cause her to make a deal with him, where she promises Rumpelstiltskin what is most precious: her baby. The narrative follows a labyrinth of visual riddles as Harriet tries to undo her deal. Rather than being malicious and innately ill-intentioned, this time, we learn Rumpelstiltskin’s vulnerability: as a child, he was neglected because of his physical appearance.
Rumpelstiltskin © Southbank Centre
The visual spinning of the performance is its most striking attribute; perpetual activity champions movement and curvilinear dance. When the lights go dim, we are greeted by a thread of words, which swivel as they bend and loop into hypnotic spirals, transporting us into the wild realm of imagination. Constructed with fanciful care, expressionism mingles with the uncanny as a Seuss-like and Caligari-esque geometric scene pops up. The stage is a chameleon of colours, shape-shifting into seemingly different emotions to depict the characters’ internal states. From elation to vengeance to desperation, designer Jonathon Oxlade’s sets colour the mood beautifully. The landscape alternates between a handful of animated arrangements: patterned stripes, triangles and pink fluffy lights, all superbly radiant. The lighting design adds to the sugary environment, as it concocts a candy-land adventure of sorts.
As characters inhabit the space, they move to their own geometric beat. The silliness and light-hearted humour add to the playful and madness of the production, much like an "Alice in Wonderland" universe. Cabaret star Paul Capsi carries out an excellent performance as Rumpelstiltskin; idiosyncratic and theatrical, his movements and pantomime gestures are what make the show come to life. Tootie, played by Michaela Burger makes the set glimmer with both her costumes and effervescent disposition. The pacing of Tootie’s steps as she shifts, tiptoeing and tap-dancing in curves and straight lines, spins us further into this sugary world.
Diamonds flash, synchronised in bursts and reverberations emerging from the music, the band is a wondrous synthesis of rock and dance arrangements; a musical journey which charges the stage with magic. The actors, particularly those Rumpelstiltskin and Tootie, display immense vocal talent. In the second act, Baby Malcom, played by Michael Butel, surprises the audience with electric vocal agility, bringing the audience together into a bursting finale.
This compelling and spectacular show has something that will resonate with all ages this Christmas. Rumpelstiltskin’s most important line: 'I give humans what they think they need', is a true reminder and lesson for all that considering love over materialism and taming our obsession with taking and owning remains immensely relevant today.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford
December 18th 2018 - January 6th 2019
Southbank Center - Queen Elisabeth Hall