Review

Disco Dahl reworks fairytales

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Review: shake and stir theatre company, Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, August 14 
Review: Rosalind Appleby 

“I guess you think you know this story…” A head peers at us through a trap door: “You don’t!”

It’s an unsettling start to the show and provokes loud reactions from the audience of primary school children. But shake and stir theatre know their stuff and the four cast members move from this into a dance party routine with lights flashing and disco music pumping.

Just like that the audience is prepped for a fast-paced, brain exploding hour of Roald Dahl’s disreputable fairy tales.

It is the Brisbane-based theatre group’s third visit to Perth (you might remember George’s Marvellous Medicine from 2018) and this time they bring Dahl’s book Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts to life. Dahl’s rhyming couplets are gleefully narrated by the four cast members (Leon Cain, Judy Hainsworth, Nelle Lee & Nick Skubij) who swap roles and costumes mid-breath. As they pop through the hidden windows, doors and trapdoors in designer Josh McIntosh’s circular wooden stage floor it feels like a cast of thousands.

Jason Glenwright’s lighting magically transforms each scene and cheeky visual gags match Dahl’s shock jock narrative, like the rag doll heads for the decapitation of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters. Our favourite prop was the large sheet of fabric that appeared multiple times as a pond, a snail and a ballgown.

A sheet of fabric becomes a snail in Revolting Rhymes. Photo supplied.

Gender stereotypes get a good working over; a gutsy Little Red Riding Hood shoots the wolf herself with a pistol and wears his fur as a fashion statement. There are bucket loads (literally) of vomit, snot, blood, farts and even fireworks.

Who knew poetry could be so much fun?

Director Ross Balbuziete has created a show that elicits both rapt attention and uproarious laughter. Guy Webster’s sound design is key, not just the disco sound track but the perfectly timed sound effects that underpin every gag.

Along the way we learn helpful (?) moral lessons like “Always look before you sit” (The Porcupine), “A bath I guess does seem to pay, I’m going to have one every day” (Jack and the Beanstalk), and “Never trust a girl from the upper crust” (Little Red Riding Hood after saving one of the Three Little Pigs with her pistol and then… well we won’t give the end away but it involves more fashion accessories).

Of course there’s so much more to discuss – are fairy tales meant to be that gruesome? (Traditionally, yes!) What is the purpose of a fairy tale? How far can we change a story before it loses its meaning?

According to my kids (aged 6 and 8) everyone should see the show because it is all about bad, silly, stupid, funny, mean and interesting things. Just be careful of the prince who chops off heads.

Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts continues until August 16.

Pictured top: Judy Hainsworth and Nelle Lee in the Snow White scene. Photo supplied.

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Rosalind Appleby

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is a Perth-based arts journalist, author and speaker. She writes for The Australian newspaper, The Guardian and Opera magazine (London). She was music critic for The West Australian for 14 years (2002-2016). From 2012-2018 she operated the blog Noted, providing insights into the Perth arts scene.

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