Thank you to the Sherman Theatre for providing us with press tickets for the purpose of this review
If you’ve followed Cardiff Mummy Says for a while, you’ll have heard me say previously that the Sherman Theatre’s Christmas productions are one of our absolute festive highlights. We’ve been going every year since my children were tiny (even before Cardiff Mummy Says – and my third child, for that matter – existed).
We started with their annual performances for the under sevens and their families, usually an imaginative adaptation of a classic fairy tale, with plenty of humour and a heartwarming message to take away, and filled with original new music. These are staged in the smaller, more relaxed studio performance space, where children sit on big colourful cushions on the floor and have plenty of opportunity to get involved. A great introduction to live theatre for little ones.
And then, as my children got older, we progressed to their ‘big’ shows in the main auditorium, aimed at those aged eight and above. These are usually an adaptation of a classic children’s novel and over the years we’ve seen productions including A Christmas Carol, The Snow Queen, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, and The Borrowers.
All have been of an exceptionally high standard, in terms of performances, original music much of which is played live by the actors themselves, the sets, the costumes, the writing… everything. The classic tales are never a standard retelling, but instead a whole new reimagining, usually with a local twist too.
And so, onto this year’s offering for families with older children, Tales of the Brothers Grimm, which opened on the weekend and had its press performance last night.
Tales of the Brothers Grimm at the Sherman Theatre
Wow! What a brilliant, brilliant show. Everyone who has worked on Tales of the Brother Grimm should be so very proud of this incredible production, which may well be the Sherman’s best Christmas production yet.
Placing the drama in Cardiff in 1913, writer Hannah McPake – who we last saw as Ms Ebenezer Scrooge in last year’s A Christmas Carol and who also performs in this show too – draws inspiration from real-life events that year, including a tornado which caused disaster when it hit Cardiff, and the growing suffragette movement which saw Emmeline Pankhurst gave a speech here.
Amid the growing political unrest of the time, we have young Stevie (played by an affable and feisty Lily Beau), angry that her mother spends all her time campaigning and protesting, and refuses to let her read the fairytales written by her quirky uncles Jack and Will.
When a storm hits, Stevie finds herself transported to the strange forest of Grimmdon, Wizard of Oz style. Clutching the big book of fairytales, she is frustrated that she doesn’t have a story or a destiny of her own and hopes The Brothers Grimm can help her find one. Along the way, she disrupts a host of fairytale princesses in the middle of their stories and realises that if she can find The Brothers Grimm they can help put the princesses back into their narratives too.
However, with echoes of the musical Six, we soon see the fairytale characters stepping out of the narratives that have been written for them. As our characters help slay the patriarchy one fairytale princess and misrepresented villain at a time, the overriding message is that the power is within us all to write our own story, to be who we are, and that we owe so much to those who fought and continue to fight for our rights to do just this.
That may all sound pretty deep but under the guidance of director Joe Murphy, the production is also brilliantly, laugh-out-loud funny at times, and powerfully emotional too. The tender mother-daughter moments near the end brought a tear to my eye, as Stevie sees her mum in a new light.
All of the action is set to Lucy Rivers’ pop/rock soundtrack of catchy new and original music, and against the backdrop of Hayley Grindle’s sets which see the simple but very effective black and white Cardiff street scene at the start replaced by an enchanted forest which manages to be both glitzy and eerie.
Sherman Christmas regular Keiron Self plays the Narrator, responsible for holding the action together, but also discovering a little more about himself along the way too. Keiron is an absolutely brilliant performer. We’ve seen him in so many parts over the years and he truly is a versatile actor. All of his characters are so different, but he’s seemingly perfect in every role in which he’s cast. In this show, he’s funny, charismatic, warm, has great comedy timing, and a powerful singing voice too.
Katie Elin-Salt, Bethzienna Williams and Sarah Workman are the three fairytale princesses Stevie meets along the way, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel respectively, all charming and feisty in their own ways, while the aforementioned Hannah McPake plays Stevie’s mother and the much-feared Snow Queen.
James Ifan and Kyle Lima are Stevie’s uncles Jack and Will, as well as Jacob and Wilheim Grimm in the fairytale world – watch out for their brilliant act two musical number, complete with glittery lederhosen. James is also our Prince Charming, with a nice little twist of his own, while Kyle is the most soulful, sultriest big, bad wolf you will ever meet. It’s a great part and one he evidently relishes playing.
Mention must also go to Michael Morgan, who is the Sherman’s apprentice actor, and takes on a few of smaller roles. What a great place to learn your trade and fair play to the Sherman for continually supporting emerging talent.
Tales of the Brothers Grimm really is a fantastic theatre production, so cleverly written, making you laugh one moment, jump the next and tugging on the heart strings soon after. My children and I all absolutely loved it and we would watch it again in a heartbeat. If you don’t want to take our word for it, then a quick scan of comments on Twitter from members of last night’s audience indicates that the general consensus is what a great piece of theatre this is.
If you get the chance to go this festive season, please do. Don’t worry if you don’t have children; there’s plenty here for everyone of all ages. It’s a truly brilliant piece of theatre and I feel so proud that it has been created locally, here in Cardiff.
Next year, sees the Sherman turn 50, with big plans afoot to celebrate. Next year’s Christmas shows are due to be announced very soon.
I have absolutely no idea how they are going to top Tales of the Brothers Grimm, but if they continue with the same creative vision and ambition, I don’t doubt that they will absolutely smash it. We can’t wait to see what Christmas 2023 has in store.
Tales of the Brothers Grimm is at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff until 31 December. Tickets are priced from £16-£27 for adults with discounts for concessions.
For younger children, Goldilocks / Elen Benfelen is in the studio theatre until 31 December, with performances available in English and Welsh.
For more information on both productions, visit the Sherman Theatre’s website here.
Production images by Mark Douet