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Arthur Pita’s Stepmother/Stepfather review at the Place, London – ‘unsettling and ingenious’

Arthur Pita's Stepmother/Stepfather at the Place, London

Arthur Pita’s fairytale double-bill revels in the dark side of human nature.

A macabre medley of fairytales, Stepmother features the petite, innocent-looking Corey Claire Annand as The Ingenue. From Snow White, to Rapunzel, to one half of Hansel and Gretel, she serves as a puppet for the twisted actions of a stream of stepmothers. Her maltreatment is discomforting and often gory – cannibalism is a disturbingly recurrent theme.

Yann Seabra’s androgynous costume design – long, black-leather coats, heeled boots and painted, mask-like faces – creates a stylised, gothic aesthetic that adds to the sense of oddity as each grotesque scenario unfolds.

The gritty twang of the Violent Femmes’ Country Death Song sets the dark, unsettling tone for the second piece, Stepfather. A tale of incest, murder and suicide, Stepfather pushes the limits of what feels comfortable. Karl Fagerlund Brekke is the convincingly de-railed stepfather; Christopher Akrill his counterpart from beyond the grave. The interplay between them allows for a wry reflection on madness – a complement to the devilish streak of humour that worms its way through this disquieting dance piece.

Throughout Stepfather the company’s characterisation is perfectly pitched. Their over-expressive interpretation of Pita’s quirky choreography serves to enhance its sinister qualities.

Despite the darkness, Stepfather is a lively, entertaining work. It closes with an eerie, yet beautiful duet between Fagerlund Brekke and murdered stepdaughter Clemmie Sveaas. While the stylised tone of Stepmother makes for delectably grim entertainment, the pseudo-realism of Stepfather is often more difficult to digest – and it’s uncomfortably brilliant for it.

 

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Verdict
An ingeniously nightmarish and disturbingly dark fairytale double-bill
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