First published in The Times, Thursday January 28 2015
So you think you know the story of Snow White? Think again. The second in a trilogy of fairy tale adaptations by the Newcastle-based dance company balletLORENT – following Rapunzel in 2013 – is notably darker than most family shows, with choreographer Liv Lorent and writer Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate, gleefully restoring the teeth and claws drawn by the likes of Disney.
As in the original version of the Grimm brothers’ tale, the wicked queen (danced by Caroline Reece) is the heroine’s birth mother rather than her stepmother, adding an extra layer of icky subversion to the familiar story of inter-generational rivalry and enmity. In one particularly gruesome sequence the queen, having been informed by the huntsman that her daughter is dead, proceeds to eat what she believes to be Snow White’s heart.
If all of this sounds rather over the top for a young audience, fear not. The more frightening sequences are repeatedly undercut and softened by the humour in Duffy’s text, narrated with wry authority by Lindsay Duncan. The Huntsman (Gavin Coward) is described as “a good, reliable, plain man, if not a handsome one” while the Magic Mirror derides its mistress with faint praise: “Queen, your beauty is a gift, from scissors, surgery and facelifts.”
The clash of influences in Duffy’s libretto, from the traditional to the contemporary, is reflected in Lorent’s choreography, with the characters delineated by a range of motifs, from the loose-limbed, buoyant movement of the heroine (Natalie Trewinnard) to the gnarled shapes and faltering steps assumed by the miners who rescue Snow White in the forest. The scene in which the mirror teeters en pointe while the queen goes into an ecstasy of remorse is an especially powerful image. A company of local schoolchildren also acquit themselves nicely in assorted supporting roles.
Like Rapunzel, the most beguiling feature of this production is the synergy between the storytelling and the visual imagery. The deceptively simple set design by Phil Eddolls transforms from royal palace to enchanted forest with remarkable agility, while the atmosphere of dark romance is further heightened by Malcolm Rippeth’s gorgeous lighting design and composer Murray Gold’s lush soundtrack.
Lorent and Duffy’s approach may not be to everyone’s taste, but they undoubtedly succeed in making a familiar tale compelling and new.
Pitlochry Festival Theatre, Feb 26 & 27 and touring to Apr 9. Balletlorent.com