REVIEW: Youth theatre’s Grimm Tales is brilliantly bizarre

The youth theatre in rehearsals for Grimms Tales
The youth theatre in rehearsals for Grimms Tales

When you find yourself standing in the woods and rooting for the half boy, half hedgehog who plays the bagpipes and rides a rooster, you know it is no ordinary evening.

In fact this – Hans my Hedgehog – is just one of the gloriously Grimm Tales being told by Chichester Festival Youth Theatre.

Hal Darling as The Wolf, Emily Wells as Little Red Riding Hood. Photo by Paul Inskip

Hal Darling as The Wolf, Emily Wells as Little Red Riding Hood. Photo by Paul Inskip

Running until Saturday (August 19) and with the Cass Sculpture Foundation, Goodwood, providing the backdrop, it is without doubt a journey into the bizarre and brilliant.

Following the band, the walking tour encounters seven stories: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Hans my Hedgehog, The Goosegirl at the Spring, The Three Snake Leaves, Rapunzel and The Juniper Tree.

For those aware of the Brothers Grimm, which here have been given a retelling by Philip Pullman, it is everything you could ask for.

But it is those who were unfamiliar that will arguably get the most out of it, as one audience member commented: “This isn’t lovely-dovey, this isn’t Disney, this is true.”

Which can only mean the fairy tales must have been working their dark magic.

Chichester is known for its clever staging and stripped back props and at Cass this comes to the fore.

Little more than a bed in the woods is needed for Red Riding Hood, of course, while other set-ups see Wang Wei’s curved mosaic wall Panorama serve as both pig farm and palace ballroom.

However it was the finale, illuminated by fairy lights strung between the trees in a clearing dotted with Peter Burke’s Antony Gormley-esque figures that, for me, really showcased the brilliance of the partnership.

Mention must be given to the cast. However it is hard to sum up how magnificent the performances, both as individuals and a collective, really are.

The youth theatre, the biggest in the country, has a reputation for greatness and yet each time still manages to beat that bar and impress.

Grimms boasts 54 young actors, the programme tells us, 29 of which are first-timers. Not that you would ever know.

In fact it is quite the opposite, not only do you find yourself forgetting they are aged just ten to 19, in many cases you forget they are human at all.

There’s a reason I stuck to the path after act one, for instance – the fear of wolves.

Speaking of which Hal Darling, who started by eating Red Riding Hood and Grandma before going on to roles including the young count, a rather unfortunate husband and the devil, was just one stand-out performance.

Credit must also go to Freya Collins who has perfected the ‘old woman’, Lucy Webb for her brilliant witches and Megan Bewley for a stepmother most wicked.

Find out more at www.cft.org.uk