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Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales review at Unicorn Theatre, London – ‘sweet, if tame’

The cast of Grimm Tales at the Unicorn Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

‘Twas the night before Christmas and three little children will not go to sleep. Not, that is, until they’ve had a bedtime story.

Director Kirsty Housley’s production of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales (adapted for the stage by Philip Wilson) uses this set-up – three children reluctant to go to sleep on Christmas Eve – to re-tell a selection of classic fairytales.

Starting with one of the most famous creations of the Brothers Grimm, Little Red Riding Hood, the staging then moves on to the pair’s lesser-known, and decidedly more gothic output, such as The Juniper Tree and Hans My Hedgehog. As the stories are read, scenes from the bedroom mingle with those from the tales themselves as Ellan Parry’s Narnia-esque set shifts between real and make-believe.

Of the versatile cast, Bryony Miller makes an excellent Stepford Wives-style witch, out to get Hansel and Gretel while wearing hot pink fluffy mules. Vera Chok is also notable for her convincing portrayal of an exasperated mother.

Ultimately, this is a fittingly festive and endearingly sweet love letter to storytelling and the power of imagination pitched at just the right level for primary school audience members.

But perhaps because the combination of Pullman and the Unicorn Theatre is, on paper, so mouth-watering, the result feels slightly disappointing. Unlike the wildly creative worlds Pullman is known for creating in His Dark Materials, there’s nothing here that’s especially inventive, quirky or surprising, and the darkness of the stories is generally downplayed.

The results are pleasant enough but probably not worth staying up through the night.

Theatremaker Kirsty Housley: ‘I’ve got this weird niche – the best work is often quite blurry’

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Fittingly festive, if slightly tame, staging of Philip Pullman's versions of some familiar – and not so familiar – fairytales