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Snow White review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘deliciously dark’

Ballet Lorent's Snow White at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Ian West Ballet Lorent's Snow White at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Ian West
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The shadow of Medea hovers over Snow White’s mother in Carol Ann Duffy’s version. Without the mitigating excuse of step-motherhood, the wicked Queen who tries to kill off Snow White is her real mother, as it was in the first edition of Grimm’s Fairytales. This is dark stuff and Liv Lorent’s theatre/ballet version runs through the story like a frightened doe through a forest.

With a pre-recorded narration from Lindsay Duncan filleted from Duffy’s seductively witty and surreptitiously subversive text, this is high calibre entertainment. Incorporating very young children in the opening scenes as Snow White’s friends and later as forest animals, Lorent combines a sense of timeless folklore with a contemporary study of youth, beauty and the ageing process. Thus, when the Queen sees her intended new husband falling for her own daughter, her thoughts turn to filicide.

The seven people who save Snow White are miners condemned to work in the tunnels beneath the palace to dig out precious jewels and other elements. Bodies bent by their labours, they are superbly choreographed, using their picks and shovels as supportive limbs.

The expressive score includes palatial orchestrations, industrial clank of the mine workers and celebratory gypsy folk music. Economical and inventive – the passage of time is conveyed with Snow White popping out of boxes at different stages of her life – it is a gorgeous thing. The sequence in which the Huntsman hauls the ‘dead’ Snow White around is akin to the tomb scene in Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. Lorent’s heroine may be innocent but she is no wilting flower and she is able to lift her partner as many times as he does her. This is going to be a marriage of equals.

The success of Lorent’s first fairytale ballet Rapunzel encouraged her to reconvene the dream team of Children’s Poet Laureate Duffy, Doctor Who composer Murray Gold and outstanding designer Phil Eddolls to create a trilogy of which Snow White is the second. Just make sure the last one is Beauty and the Beast, OK?

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De-Disneyfied adaptation of the original Grimm Fairytale is deliciously dark and surprisingly redemptive