Friday, October 24, 2014

'The Hunters Grimm' by Teatro Vivo, 22nd October 2014

Deptford High Street doesn't exactly scream 'fairytale'.  Half of it  is a building site for some shiny new development and half is mouldy old Victorian brickwork that miraculously dodged the Luftwaffe bombs.  Neither chromed enough to house braying city traders nor run-down enough to draw in gentrifying creatives, the street rumbles along in a tangle of transitory cash n' carries and mobile phone shops intermingled with the occasional splotch of boho trendiness.  But now there's something new in town; these darkened streets populated by sinister old crones, giggling princesses and tormented lovers.

The Hunters Grimm, a new production by Teatro Viva, adds a sparkle to the place. Beginning in the Deptford Lounge library, we're introduced to the brothers Grimm, one of whom, Wilhelm, is racked with manic misery that every single story he encounters ends unhappily.  After all, "Happily ever after" is a relatively recent concept, before Disney came along classical children's stories would be as likely to end in great gushing gouts of blood as they would in smooches and song.

And so the audience is tasked with curing Wilhelm's depression by hunting out a happy story on the streets of Deptford.  Clad in fetching purple bowties our team of 'Fearless Philologists' heads out into the cool October night to try and spot likely candidates for a good yarn. This quest takes up the rest of the night, the audience gently guided around by larger than life characters like The Prince of Deptford, the snoozy Gunter, the animal Musicians of Bremen and Rapunzel's, sad, blind suitor

As soon as we begin the streets gain a fantastical shine.  We're herded towards a mysterious old woman in a green velvet cloak, she moans that she's been left off the guest list to see the new royal baby.  Straightaway we're sucked into Teatro Vivo's slightly off-kilter world, which allows us a peek beyond the veil.  She explains her situation, leads us across the road then, in a flash, turns and transforms from kindly woman into malevolent witch, vowing to poison the baby.  It's a startling transformation and a fantastic performance from a woman who I later learn is 92!

From this promising start we tumble deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, winding down the streets, through shops, down back alleys and into bars.  God only knows how you go about organising something like this, though the fried chicken vendors of Deptford are impressively tolerant of strangely dressed weirdos yelling "Have you seen Hansel and Gretel?!" through their door.

Performing in public also adds a ton of interesting little wrinkles.  Passers by crane their necks in confusion as they come across eccentric, costumed people acting in very peculiar ways.  The performers even try their best to get them involved, cheekily quizzing them about bizarre subjects.  Similarly, simply being out on the streets adds some spice to the drama; epic romance becoming more touching when it concludes next to a pile of trash lit by the halogen glow of a street light.

Dragging these fantastical characters off the page and onto the streets modernises them in ways that recalls some of my favourite fiction. This London street/fairytale combination most reminded me of Neil Gaiman's book/TV series Neverwhere, about a London Below, where'The Angel Islington hobnobs with Old Bailey.  The attraction of Neverwhere is exploring the soft point where fiction and reality intersect, a playground that The Hunters Grimm similarly frolics in.

Underlying all that is a simple, exhilarating sense of adventure and discovery.  We never know where we're going to go next or who we're going to meet.  So when, for example, we're ushered out the back door of a deli, through a fire exit and emerge in a back alley there's a genuine sense of excitement.  This unpredictability pays off big time, I don't want to spoil the sights you'll see, but they range from disturbing to the wondrous.

I don't think The Hunters Grimm is for everyone.  If you'd rather park yourself in a comfy seat and passively consume a show then constant activity and participatory nature the show could cause you to have a nervous night.  On the other hand, if you have a burning lust for adventure and a willingness to think on your feet you'll find few other things in London as satisfying.

The Hunters Grimm begins at the Deptford Lounge, 7.30pm, Wednesday 22 October – Saturday 8 November.  Tickets are £12 (£10 conc)s available here.

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