Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales are available to watch on The Unicorn Theatre’s YouTube Channel.

As the nights draw in and Halloween draws closer, turn the lights down low, gather around the (virtual) fire and let the Unicorn Theatre’s exceptional cast and creatives spin you a Grimm story…

The door of a little wooden hut, lit by moonlight, creaks open to reveal a lone storyteller, lit only by a lamp’s glow. Curtains flutter, strange things appear and disappear, rain pitter-patters, lights go out… and the familiar and the strange come alive. These are fairy tales, but not as you know them.

The Unicorn Theatre, a true gem in the UK’s theatrical crown for younger people (producing work for children so good – even the adults go home raving about it), first produced Philip Pullman’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, Grimm Tales, in the Winter of 2018. This is not a digital staging of that well-received production, but instead, a magical, theatrical reading of a selection of six of the Grimms’ stories told in Philip Pullman’s visual, lively and occasionally gorey prose. Each director uses the digital platform to enhance their telling to magical effect, suiting the content to the online platform for at-home audiences of 8-12s (and transfixed adults, to boot!).

More than most, children have suffered a lack of direct engagement through the pandemic but the Unicorn have not forgotten them. Their talented and diverse pool of cast and creatives speak directly to their audiences (eye contact is imperative!) making latching on easier. We have all surely experienced digital fatigue at some point by now, children included, but this series of six allows for morsels of quality storytelling that hold the attention and expand the imagination. A selection of spooky bed-time treats maybe, perfect in the run up to Halloween.

Some tales, such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Rumplestiltskin’ you may think you know, but you may not be prepared for the darker twists in the tales that Disney and generations of children’s books have left out; let’s just say the Ugly Sisters suffer more than just jealousy when Cinderella bags the prince. On the brighter side, you also won’t have seen Rumpelstiltskin’s gold in quite such fabulous fashion as drag queen Le Gateau Chocolat’s glittering portrayal.

Other tales, only the true geeks of fairy tale mythology might have come across. Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu directs Andy Umerah reading ‘The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers’ in such an accessible and hilarious way you would never believe it was a story centuries old. They almost certainly never imagined their tales re-told to hip-hop beats, and neither did I until now.

Every time the door of the little hut creeks open, there is something and someone new to discover in these Grimm Tales. Bread and jam appear in one story, to be replaced by a spooky black cat or a gingerbread house in the next. Bravery is richly rewarded, greed is scorned and punished. The cosy little shed and every tale told within it is a truly delightful treasure-trove of mystery and intrigue, testament to the creatives of the Unicorn who continue to create magic for all ages through increasingly tough times.

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Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales from Unicorn Theatre (Online)
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Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales from Unicorn Theatre (Online)
Christina is a Londoner and theatre professional with experience in directing, producing and dramaturgy. Christina’s work as a writer and critic can be found on her blog, The Empty Blogspace (christinabulford.co.uk), at Mark Aspen Reviews and in the Twickenham Tribune. Christina holds a master’s degree in dramaturgy and theatre criticism from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Christina also practices performance photography.

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