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Edinburgh Fringe 2015 Review: Fourth Monkey's Grimm Tales: Hansel and Gretel

Amy Wong is left with a handful of breadcrumbs as she tries to piece together the point of Fourth Monkey's grim fail

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Image: Fourth Monkey
Image: Fourth Monkey
Venue: The Space @ Niddry St

This review contains spoilers.

I was quite excited to see Fourth Monkey's Grimm Tales: Hansel and Gretel because I'm a big fan of dark and twisted versions of fairy tales. However, I've never been more disappointed by a show in my life. It began promisingly enough. As the audience entered the theatre, two women kept pointing at random people and fixing their eyes on them in a disconcerting manner, sometimes giggling as if they were sharing a cruel joke about them. This immediately created a sense of discomfort and paranoia which perfectly set the tone for the rest of the show.

The women's faces were split into two halves so that one side of their faces had a deathly pallor with huge black shadows around their eyes and dishevelled hair. The make up on the other half of their face was reminiscent of a creepy horror film doll. The two women's appearance highlighted the show's greatest strength - its styling. The witch who appeared later on looked fabulously disturbing too, complete with copper curls adorned with feathers and one taloned hand covered in black leather.

Acting as narrators, the two women with their faces split in half were unapologetically coarse and crude as they introduced the show, revealing that they were a pair of conjoined twins who had previously been connected by their vagina. The unsettling combination of the women's childlike manner and explicit language alongside their blatant disregard for the audience made them absolutely terrifying - but it was also impossible to take your eyes off them. Their opening words promised an evening of deliciously dark entertainment and they were eerily compelling.

The show stayed true to its self-proclaimed loyalty to the Theatre of Cruelty and involved scenes of cannibalism, incest, murder and self-flagellation. Unfortunately, the show's overwhelming desire to be shocking resulted in several instances of gratuity, especially one scene in which a naked man is spanked while Hansel is apparently forced to sexually abuse his sister. The depictions of insane opium addict Artaud's tortured existence were well-constructed and the actor did a fantastic job at conveying Artaud's anguish, but they soon became repetitive and lacked any real purpose. His eventual death at the hands of cancer contributed to a messy ending which made very little sense.

There were also several heavy-handed 'lessons' towards the end of Hansel and Gretel, including references to corrupt politicians, real-life witches and abuse victims going on to become abusers themselves. These felt unnecessary and detracted from the other worldly feel of the overall performance.

Then there were the scenes which were just downright bizarre, including a one in which the supporting cast use branches half painted to look like candy canes to have a play gunfight after pretending to be trees which shrieked when cut. However, that was nothing compared to the stepmother inexplicably mewing like a cat, while the father communicated solely through ape-like noises.

The actors weren't helped by the space in which they were performing. A large part of the action took place on the floor but the arrangement of the seats meant several of the audience members were left craning their necks as they struggled to work out what was happening. This robbed pivotal scenes such as the witch's death and Hansel's assault on Gretel of their full power. It's a problem I've encountered before in this venue and one that was made worse by the fact Hansel and Gretel doesn't contain a lot of dialogue.

Part of me wonders whether I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate this unusual take on Hansel and Gretel - but given that at least one person walked out during the show and several others looked just as bemused as I was by the end of it, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who didn't really understand what Fourth Monkey were aiming for.

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Anonymous Posted on Tuesday 11 Aug 2015

It's a shame you can't spell Artaud. It's also a shame that you can make a connection the concept of Theatre of Cruelty and then not understand why the elements of this concept are in the show. I also saw it tonight: thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it's mainly down to interpretation and I think one of the beauty's of theatre is that every individual can have a different interpretation of someone's art.


Anonymous Posted on Wednesday 12 Aug 2015

To be cutting edge is one thing but this play should just be cut out. Thanks Amy for a great review. Much more enjoyable than the play itself.


Helen rees Posted on Friday 21 Aug 2015

Go see what a Grimm tale at venue 45. Same theme but expertly executed and you'll leave wondering if it's now ok to breathe. Absolutely superb- and by a school theatre company- simply mind blowing

Ben anderson Posted on Tuesday 11 Aug 2015

Maaaateeee. On a level though...'artaud'


Toby Clarke Posted on Tuesday 11 Aug 2015

Hi Amy

How are you? Bloody love this review but are you able to edit it slightly and remove the boy spanking and sexual abuse line please?

This in technical terms is called a spoiler and I fear it'll reduce the number of audience members walking out at this moment if they're anticipating it.

I'd be really grateful. Enjoy the rest of the Fringe.




Johnny Posted on Monday 17 Aug 2015

This was one of the worst productions I have ever seen sadly. It felt a lot like the result of a first reading of 'The Theatre and Its Double'; pure shock with no substance. Firstly, the choice of fairy tale made little sense as they had to radically change the traditional story to fit the 'shock' aim. In fact the only thing about this production that was shocking was how bad it was. The unnecessary screaming, swearing and sexual references left me, and many of the other people that I spoke to on the way out, with a bad taste in mouth. I actually felt sorry for the cast as they had clearly not been given the proper direction (and indeed script) to make this a success. Artaud is not just about pure shock, there has to be substance and the man himself also doesn't need to be in a production to make it Artaudian (his presence was one of the most confusing things I have ever seen and I have no idea how someone in the audience who had never heard of Artaud would have understood what was going on). I have seen some fantastic productions in the past in Edinburgh using the principles of Artaud like Badac Theatre Company and in fact this year I would argue that Gecko are now producing the ritualistic style of Artaud for a modern audience. This production just did not work and I left feeling pleased that I didn't have to pay to see it but also feeling sorry for young cast. They probably didn't know better and needed clearer guidance on how to produce something that had a bit more substance rather than gimmick.


Philip Posted on Monday 17 Aug 2015

Chacun a son gout, as Artaud no doubt would not have said. The production was about more than shock. At times it was touching or funny. If sexual references, swearing - as you describe it - and screaming leave you with a nasty taste in your mouth then I hardly think you could deal with the genuine Artaud, so referring to The Theatre and Its Double to bolster your disparaging condescension doesn't really support your critique. In fact it just sounds rather prissy and bourgeois. I loved it. A teenage girl near me said to her friends it was the best thing she'd ever seen. That may not count to those of you who get to see shows for free so they can write clever reviews, but it counts for me.


Johnny Posted on Tuesday 18 Aug 2015

As with a lot of comments online people rarely take the time to read them correctly. I said 'unnecessary' screaming, swearing and sexual references as all of these things in the correct context can have a real impact on an audience. This of course is therefore very much opinion based and a matter of taste so no need to take too much offence. At least, from what you say, it sounds like they are reaching their target audience.