The Brothers Grimm ‘collected’ Rumpelstiltskin in the same way they collected so many fairy tales that had been passed down through countless generations, putting their own spin on each story as they went. The same can be said for Australian companies, Windmill Theatre and State Theatre Company South Australia, who have created a lavish and visually stunning adaptation of a story rarely told on the stage.
In this version, written by Julianne O’Brien and Rosemary Myers, who also directs, the King and Millers daughter are nowhere to be seen, and there’s no straw being spun into gold. Instead Rumpelstiltskin is a fashion designer, although a hapless model named Malcolm is hired to front the enterprise. Harriet has left small town Australia to make it big in the city, but has ended up destitute. In steps Rumpelstiltskin as ‘Rusty’ to weave his magic and make all her dreams come true, but at a price.
Jonathon Oxlade’s design is quite breath-taking, a series of concentric arcs are the canvas on which Chris Edser’s gloriously bright and colourful animations are projected, there’s a sixties vibe with block colours and psychedelic patterns dazzling the senses. With no physical scenery required, we move from scene to scene in dynamic flurries which are captivating, especially for the younger audience members. Bold and dramatic lighting from Gavin Norris helps to complete this visually astounding spectacle.
While the production looks fantastic, the storytelling is somewhat lacking. It’s difficult to really see Rumpelstiltskin as a villain, partly because he’s portrayed as a victim himself, and partly because the character of Harriet is vain and self-serving from the outset. Several subplots are not resolved or properly explained, and while the cast of characters all come together to help Harriet, they are given very little reason to be there.
There are some nice performances though, especially as Rumpelstiltskin is part musical, part play. The music comes from a mix of genres with plenty of upbeat numbers and an occasional ballad. Michaela Burger gives the strongest vocal performance in the role of Tootie, with Sheridan Harbridge as Harriet also stepping up to the mark. Children will love Paul Capsis in the titular role, even if some of the songs he’s been given make him sound like a lounge singer.
Rumpelstiltskin looks fantastic, and while they’ve created gold with the staging, the plot is as brittle as straw. The animations and lighting may be enough to keep the kids entertained in this festive run, but I suspect even they will recognise the story is weaker than it should be.