First published in The Times, Tuesday May 21 2019
The power of three is pervasive in fairytales. Whoever heard of two magic wishes, or a beginning and middle with no end? It is no accident that the Wicked Queen makes a trio of attempts to kill Snow White or that the miller’s daughter tries three times to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name.
The fate of triplet sisters is at the heart of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s play, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing, which is touring Scotland in a new production from Stellar Quines. The play subverts some of the best-known fairytales, including Hansel and Gretel. As the story opens, the three very different siblings have an idyllic childhood of cake and play with a kindly seamstress mother and a woodcutter father. Mum dies and is supplanted by a heartless stepmother, who insists their father abandons the children in the woods: so far, so familiar.
Pic: Jane Hobson
The twist in Kruckemeyer’s version lies in the contrasting choices these anything-but-helpless sisters make at the point of their abandonment. Albienne (played in Jemima Levick’s production for Stellar Quines by Rehanna MacDonald) sets off in one direction and carves out dual careers as both warrior and baker. Beatrix (Kim Allan) takes the opposite route, and finds ever-inventive ways to bring light and humour into unhappy lives. Carmen (Betty Valencia) stays put, builds a home and opens her doors to an array of forest-dwelling creatures.
The implication is clear: be true to yourself and strive to live your best and fullest life, and Levick and her cast (which also includes Ewan Somers in the role of the beleaguered woodcutter) dramatise the show’s rousing message with an appealing mix of humour, rumbustious energy and poignancy.
Pic: Jane Hobson
If there’s a drawback, it lies in the way Kruckemeyer has chosen to tell his story. Too much telling of the “Once upon a time . . . ” variety and not quite enough showing occasionally mars aspects of the production. The tale’s epic feel belies the production’s compact running time, with the episodic structure linked together by colourful visuals courtesy of the set designer Jean Chan and a lively soundtrack from Novasound.