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Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales - Marian Street Theatre

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by Brydie Wright (subscribe)
I'm a children's book author, radio presenter of 'By the Book' for Radio Northern Beaches, and freelance writer. Check out www.brydiewright.com for more about
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An immersive fairytale experience

"Mummy, those Grimm Tales were really good!" (Rob, aged 7)

Whatever I might say here as an adult and a reviewer, the above is all the recommendation you really need.

And then there's, "It was funny." (Mackenzie, aged 10).

The true test of any children's theatre is audience reaction - not the adults, but the kids.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pulman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
The latest production from Marian Street Theatre for Young People


Today, my son and I were one of the first groups to be taken through the immersive, backstage world of Philp Pullman's Grimm Tales, adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson, and performed by the young company of actors from Marian Street Theatre for Young People (MSTFYP).

Each performance contains up to 5 short plays in different locations in and around Glen Street Theatre.

SET 1
Little Red Riding Hood and other tales, including Rapunzel, Hans-My-Hedgehog and The Juniper Tree.

SET 2
The Frog King, Hansel and Gretel, and other tales, including Faithful Johannes and The Goose Girl at the Spring.

We experienced Set 2 of these terrific tales, though you might prefer a performance of Set 1, or perhaps both (for a discount). The post-show verdict from my son was he'd like to go back now and see Set 1, and so would I. It's the perfect school holidays activity.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
The talented ensemble cast of Set 2, Grimm Tales


This production is really different. Refrain from too many pre-conceived ideas of what to expect, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Nate Gilkes, Artistic Director for MSTFYP, is taking the company in a new direction with its first performance at Glen Street Theatre in Belrose. This innovative new production is a testament to his vision. The 90-minute performances take the audience on a journey, literally. We move first from one central location in the theatre foyer, to breakout groups which visit a circuit of sets backstage, in a kind of round robin. Each group experiences 4 short plays on their immersive theatre tour, culminating with a reunion of all, for a theatre-in the-round style performance of the final play in the set.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pulman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
(Front row L to R) MSTFYP's Wendy Blaxland, (Brydie Wright, Reviewer), Nate Gilkes and (Back row) David Castle, Chairman


Aforementioned Mackenzie (aged 10), said he liked moving around between locations and plays, so if you're a bit confronted by this as an adult, you might be surprised at how open your children are to this style of performance. After all, 90 minutes in one seat, in one location, watching a play, is likely a bit much for most kids. Combine it with movement, short performances and constant changes of scenery, however, and it's the perfect experimental formula for children's storytelling.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
Use of outdoor theatre space - photo by Noni Carroll photography


And what of the narrative content? I thought I was pretty well-versed in the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, coming into this performance. I soon realised, however, there's a lot more to this canon of literature than well-known favourites Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. You might find your little ones come away quite surprised too. Fairytales by their very nature were actually quite 'grim' in the olden days, and though they end happily ever after, there is often much angst and hardship for the protagonists to overcome. It's in this drama that lessons are learned, not only by the characters, but by the audience.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
Shadow play from Hansel and Gretel - photo by Noni Carroll photography


Modern spectators might be taken aback by the black comedic elements of these plays, a classic example of which comes in the closing refrain of The Goose Girl at the Spring. It's a story probably new to most, but it kept the audience spellbound. It also evoked a belly laugh from some of the adults and made an impact on the kids. Both my child reviewers, Rob and Mackenzie, remembered this lively scene, and commented on it unprompted. Don't worry, no spoiler here, but it's a moment to look forward to in Set 2...

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
Atmosphere aplenty - photo by Noni Carroll Photography



The young ensemble cast of performers work incredibly hard throughout these sets, performing multiple parts, live costume and staging changes, manipulation of props and special effects, and travelling from set to set with the crowd. All the while they also act as guides for the audience, in what is quite an unprecedented type of experience for most. It would have been an ambitious feat even for more mature, professional actors, but this troupe of early to mid-teens pull it off remarkably well. Your pre-schoolers and primary schoolers will love the colour and movement of the performances, and the talent of these big kids, bravely taking on the stage.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
Innovative use of backstage - photo by Noni Carroll photography


A particular highlight for me was the skilful use of shadow play to create the special effects for Hansel and Gretel, one of the better known tales of the Grimms. Again, the young actors (mentored by the professional crew), enacted this technique convincingly. Much of the narrative was performed behind a screen, conjuring the spooky atmosphere which makes this story a favourite with many. The youngsters in the audience were transfixed, and who doesn't like a good ol' story of a witch's plot backfiring on her! (Sorry, that one is a spoiler).

Families on the Northern Beaches and northern Sydney are lucky enough to have the rest of the school holidays and Saturdays in February to catch performances of Grimm Tales, but the innovation of the production is worth the travel from further afield. Marian Street Theatre For Young People, a not-for-profit organisation, always delivers on its ideals of making live theatre accessible for the very young, and developing acting and production talents of the future.

If you're a fan of fairytale fun and fright, this is a family-friendly show I'd recommend you don't miss.

Grimm Tales, Philip Pullman, Marian Street Theatre for Young People, MSTFYP, Philip Wilson, Glen Street Theatre, children's theatre, Brothers Grimm, theatre review, school holidays, theatre company, Belrose
The cast and crew of Grimm Tales - photo by Noni Carroll Photography


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Why? An immersive theatre experience for 5 - 12 year olds
When: Wednesday 15th January - Saturday 22nd February, 2020
Phone: 02 9975 1455
Where: Glen Street Theatre, Belrose
Cost: Tickets $20 - $25
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