Madame Modjeska’s Fairytale is streaming online as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s extensive online programme. Award-winning director Annie Loui and Southern California based physical theatre company CounterBalance Theater present the worldwide premiere of this experimental short film.
A unique hybrid of physical theatre and storybook animation, the film delves into the tale of renowned Polish Shakespearean actress Helena Modjeska. This whimsical fairytale follows fantasy characters as they explore the canyons surrounding her home, which still today remain Southern California landmarks. The fantasy characters are accompanied by site-specific footage from the beautiful canyon and estate that bears her name.
Madame Modjeska’s Fairytale begins with the animation, which includes charming, hand-drawn illustrations from Modjeska’s original work. The film is advertised as being suitable for all ages; however, parts of the animation are perhaps not for the very young or faint hearted, with such images as monsters and a person bound by ropes. Ellen Rubin provides narration throughout with impressive use of tone and expression, but the dark descriptions of criminals and child-eaters are almost grim.
The physical theatre element that follows really lifts the mood, with some wonderfully light, articulate movement. There are even moments of humour, displayed through the use of expression and physicality. Another particular highlight is the use of music and sound, which not only beautifully compliments the visuals but really adds a much needed dynamic element.
At barely fifteen minutes long, Madame Modjeska’s Fairytale is an easy watch that, although cleverly edited, is perhaps lacking a little in depth and detail. However, it’s certainly an imaginative take on history, with CounterBalance Theater achieving its aim of re-telling stories for a contemporary audience.