After much anticipation and hype, Wrong Tree Theatre finally offered their first production of the year with a stylized, physical and devised take, on the well-known tale of Rumplestiltskin. Without any doubt, it is clear that this show was a triumph. Director Henry Fell, Associate Alumni Advisor Helen Fitzmaurice, and their stunning cast blended fitting music with physical drama to create a world which left the audience hungry for more.
Just to devise a play is itself a commendable feat, yet to do it with so much charisma and slickness is rarity indeed. The dialogue felt incredibly natural and was presented as a hybrid between comedy and drama, which added to the thrilling atmosphere that was apparent. This is possibly harder to create than writing a script in a conventional fashion. Fell’s experience in this realm (having created devised drama before in Durham) clearly guided his cast towards transforming a well-known narrative into something so unfamiliar and special.
Furthermore, what was most impressive about this production was the slickness of the physicality. Each actor performed as an ensemble member and their choreographed movements, singing voices and stock characterizations told the narrative. The music from Tom Harrison allowed for so much of the action to be as effective, as not only was it fundamental to setting the tone of the piece, it created a surreal world for the actors to turn upside down with the engaging madness that occurred on the stage.
Alex Ottie played the titular role of Rumplestiltskin with great stage presence, and commanded the space in his scenes. He was more than convincing in portraying the obsessiveness and strangeness of his character. Similarly, Claire Forster was an absolute delight to watch. Her physicality in the role of the King was startling and it is clear that only very few actors are capable of such a performance. In addition, not only was Jake Hathaway impressive with his physical strength as he held characters on his shoulders while dancing, he gave a very grounded performance amidst the highly choreographed movements of the ensemble at the beginning of the play. This prevented the plot from moving too quickly and so the audience was able to engage with the drama without becoming lost. Also, Lucy Knight offered a perfect blend of the sense of a grounded character that evoked sympathy, and energy throughout which was perfectly balanced with Ottie’s ridiculousness.
In terms of the ensemble, Hiba Benhamed, Anais Dahl, and Ben George must be congratulated in displaying strong individual characterizations frequently in such short outbursts. This was due to a wonderful use of accents, heightened movements and being frequently hilarious. A criticism of this play would be to make even more use of these three actors in the ensemble, as they were so effective within it.
Danielle Oliver and Charlotte Thomas deserve special mention for simple yet effective props and costumes. The use of coats and waistcoats in exemplifying the status of characters was effective and often hilarious as the King’s coat helped emphasize the gluttony of the character, not that Forster needed any help. A particular highlight of the play was when the boxes were used to display the change in size of the rooms; the audience was in fits of laughter.
However, this play is not without faults. While what was staged was a joy to watch, the ending was so sudden I felt as though there should have actually been more to watch. Yet, it is a comfortable position to be in when your major flaw is that you were too good to deny the audience of more. Another five or ten minutes to really flesh out the ending would bring this show as close to flawless as a piece of devised piece of student drama can get.
Wrong Tree Theatre did not seem to add any new twist or themes to this classic tale. Some will argue that this is an opportunity missed. Whether this was problematic or not, Fell and his company did still provide a clear message for Durham. This is that devised psychical theater can offer one of the most exciting pieces of drama within this student society. This is a play that is destined for success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in August; it showcases the mesmerizing talent DST has to offer.