Wexford’s second show is a work regularly performed in America since its 1973 premiere but scarcely known in Europe. Conrad Susa’s small-scale ensemble piece is based on poems by Anne Sexton, who explored in them some of the familiar fairy-tales of the Brothers Grimm while bringing to them modern - and sometimes highly disturbing - psychological perceptions.
Thus amidst the familiarity of Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Briar Rose and the rest we enter into territories only hinted at in the originals - mental instability, marital boredom and a wide variety of sexual activity, not stopping short of incest.
The result somehow retains the aptness of its designation as an entertainment whilst moving onto deeper levels.
Sexton’s texts are set clearly by Susa, who adds to them layers of sophisticated irony by the employment of American popular music styles of the 1940s and 1950s. It is a clever, intriguing and thought-provoking piece, to which a talented group of eight singers bring a variety of skills in Michael Barker-Caven’s pacey production, given some tricksy allure by Joe Vanek’s designs blending standard fairy-tale imagery within a period American suburban context.
Everyone shines, though Fiona McAndrew has the plum part of Sexton herself, doubling as the Witch. Wexford’s artistic director David Agler conducts and could do with a bit more energy, while the score proves more memorable in its second act than the first. But overall it is a fascinating evening.