The Beauty Thief.
Directed by Robin Davidson and Sammy Moynihan. Lighting design by Ali Clinch. Costume design by Victoria “Fi” Hopkins. Stage management by Dr. Anni Doyle Wawrzynczak. Music operation. Melissa Gryglewski. Projection operation Nicole Seifert. Photography. Joachim Ellenreider. Video documentation. James Matthews. Rebus Theatre. Belconnen Community Theatre. March 26-28 2021.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Magic takes on many guises. There is the trick, the sleight of hand, the illusion and the wonderment of belief. In its latest show, The Beauty Thief, Rebus Theatre takes its company of thespians with differing abilities and the audience into that magical world where the power of belief can make all things true. The story-line is stock fairy tale. A wise and good king (Joel Swadling) and queen (Lucy Raffaele) are forced from their kingdom which is handed by the wicked witch (Louise Ellery) to a tyrannical king (Grant McLindon) who banishes the rightful royals and subjects the villagers to his cruel tyranny. In return he must steal the new born princess and deliver her to the witch, who sets out to steal her beauty. What ensues is a quest by the king and queen to find their daughter and the eternal battle between good and evil until, as in all good fairy tales love and goodness triumph. There is a twist in the tale at the end, but that must wait until later to be revealed, because it is the moral to Rebus’s original take on the fairy tale and features a woodcutter (Peter Rosini) and a wolf (Simone Georgia Bartram), but not as you might remember them from Grimm or Dahl.
In fact, Rebus’s tale, told by actors with unconventional and differing abilities is entirely original and thoroughly captivating. Directors Robin Davidson and Sammy Moynihan bring a wealth of experience and a keen sense of theatricality to the task of guiding their cast through the enriching experience. They are ably supported by Canberra Dance Theatre choreographers Amy and Gretel who work with the Canberra Dance Theatre’s CD Teens comprising young people with special needs and coordinated by Artistic Director Jacqui Simmonds.
Musician Marlene Claudine Racine’s accompaniment on the clarinet evokes the mystique of a different world, drawing us into the fantasy and capturing from the outset our willing suspension of all disbelief. We are entrapped, magically seduced by the sonorous notes and mesmerized by the pauses and repetition throughout the performance. What might be boring in a customary production becomes integral to the mystique of The Beauty Thief. Where we might shuffle restlessly on our seats, here we are caught and enveloped by the intriguing atmosphere of this work. The repetition of Kimberley Adams’s performance of the Princess picking fruit from the tree for the witch underlies the mundane servitude of enslavement. An action that might simply be rushed in a different production assumes a symbolism in The Beauty Thief. This repetition is repeated in the dance movements of the CD Teens as they comply with the tyrant’s every command. Costumed by designer Fi Hopkins in the same plain white clothing, the CD Teens assume the role of Chorus, commenting through the dance on the joyous celebration of the Princess’s birth or bending to the cruel treatment of the villagers. A look or a movement becomes a thousand words.. Dialogue is projected on the screen to provide a clear narrative. The production assumes a Brechtian aspect and might have benefited from the use of Brecht’s technique of forecasting the action at the beginning of a scene, thus allowing an audience to act as judges of the actions.
Every fairy tale contains a moral and The Beauty Thief offers a pertinent moral or two. The wolf, transformed into a beautiful bird by the Princess’s act of kindness returns the kindness by helping to restore the rightful owners to the throne. The woodcutter refuses the king’s offer of succession conditional upon the marriage to his daughrer and reurns to the wood, followed by the princess and then surprise surprise by the king and queen. As Polonius said to his son Laertes, “To thine own self be true.” It is the wise bird who utters the final advice to the villagers hat as a community they find the support, strench and self-determination to be the just rulers of the land. What better morals to conclude this magical fairy tale. The Beauty Thief is Rebus Theatre Company’s precious gift to everyone.