“An hour of gothic spectacle driven by compelling narrative…

Wrong Tree Theatre presents — ‘Das Weben’: a sick and twisted take on the Grimms’ Tales. A surprising choice of adjectives, to be sure, but particularly fitting for Emily Browning and Lola Stakenburg’s adaptation of folklore. Circus meets fairytale in what promises to be an hour of gothic spectacle driven by compelling narrative.

We begin our story with the Ringmaster. Hannah Lydon successfully transports viewers from an intimate black box theatre to the life and soul of the circus. With immersive interactions coupled with interpretive dance, the audience cannot help but be seduced by the grim acrobatic world in which our characters reside. Equally compelling is Hanna Wright as Rumplestiltskin. Creeping around the stage with wide-eyed curiosity and a ghastly grin, Wright is a creature of nightmares. Next we have the villainous mother (known simply as, ‘Mother’), played by Indie Spafford. Although I occasionally wanted Spafford to be more evil — but maybe that’s my grim imagination talking — she effectively conveys the image of a domineering mother, who only wants the best for, well, herself. Think Mother Gothel with financial anxiety rather than a longing for magic hair.

Throughout the narrative, as with most fairytales, said domineering mother tries to marry her children off to the best possible match. Scarlett Clarke is fantastic at conveying the delicate position of a daughter caught between what she wants, and what her mother wants. I particularly enjoyed her interaction with Rumplestiltskin, where she successfully portrays the anxiety of insatiable matchmaking. But she is not the only victim of the Mother’s machinations. Horatio Holloway tiptoes a precarious line between his character’s smug persona coupled with the anguish of yet another loveless marriage set up by his mother. At times, I felt his charisma overshadowed his character’s underlying pain – whilst this is certainly something that is explored in the piece’s climax, I wanted to see more of his character’s anxieties throughout – but again, perhaps that is my grim imagination talking. In any case, I particularly enjoyed his interaction with Maariya Khalid’s Half-Dead Princess. It seems rather odd praise to say that these characters have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. But that is precisely the point. They are two people, forced together by circumstance, whose utter indifference to one another is palpable. Khalid’s unimpressed facial expressions to Holloway’s proposal are particularly enjoyable, setting the precedent for what promises to be a particularly terrible relationship. Speaking of terrible relationships, Lola Stakenburg’s performance as the Wilful Child provides viewers with yet another unhinged family dynamic. With direct address to the audience, Stakenburg pulls on viewers’ heartstrings, whilst unnerving us as well. Without spoiling too much, you are certainly in for a rollercoaster of a journey.

But to my mind, the strongest element of the piece is its intricate interplay between circus and folklore. With dazzling costumes, sharp SFX, cold lighting washes, brought together with the standout performance of Lydon as the ringmaster, viewers cannot help but be drawn in to the dazzling displays. And although this circus is certainly a sinister one, I found myself wanting to be part of it — just a little bit. The creative team deserve particular praise for bringing to life the sinister world of ‘Das Weben’ – most notably Carrie Cheung’s set design comprised of prison bars is very effective. With actors peering through the cages in the final scenes, this only enhances the eerie notes Browning and Stakenburg strive to create. Coupled with the choric circus dances, viewers leave the theatre with a distinct sense of unsettlement.

‘Das Weben’ is a love letter to the classic fairytales we all know and love, but with a sour twist. It’s not scary, do not get me wrong. In fact, it’s perfectly child friendly. But it’s certainly creepy. So, if you, or your kids, are a fan of gloomy old wives’ tales, why not head on down to Infirmary Street. Brace yourselves; you’re in for a real treat…

By Josh Goodwin

“Das Weben” will continue to perform at 10:20 (am) on the 6th to the 19th of August in V236 – Greenside @Infirmary St. at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Photo Credits: Wrong Tree Theatre