Soho Theatre, London
It’s midwinter. It’s the middle of Dartmoor and a group of people are housed in a yurt. It was here that writer/director Hannah Mulder first came across the story of Valemon, The White Bear King – a fairytale that echoes with Beauty and the Beast and Little Red Riding Hood, but told by the Brothers’ Grimm rather than Walt Disney.
We jump forward a short time and Hannah joins forces with puppet director, Rachel Canning, to set up The Wrong Crowd and, for their debut production, the tale of Valemon is re-imagined into The Girl with the Iron Claws; a magical mix of fairytale, fable, coming-of-age and life-journey storytelling.
The stage setting is remarkably simple; a black backdrop and a few props (mainly stools and ladders) that appear to have come from a jumble sale. Into this space, The Girl takes live acting, mime, puppetry, singing, shadow play, lighting and sound to create a fantastical world that moves from castles to forests to mountaintops.
The cast of 4 play a range of roles, though focus, primarily on key characters. Clare Fraenkel brings a doe-eyed wonderment as the eponymous Girl and Chris Macdonald counters that with a brooding intensity as Valemon, the bear. Arran Glass achors the production, playing the blacksmith (who make the iron claws) and narrates the show. However, for me, Laura Cairns is triumphant as the Troll Queen, wonderfully blending malevolence with dark humour to showcase the tyrannical monarch.
In a world where hi-tech gadgetry makes the imagined real, The Girl plays on the power of our imagination, stimulating our minds to help create the world of their story. The enthusiastic performances and use of puppetry, especially, draw the viewer into this simple tale. Shadows, lighting and sound cast a dark and ominous gothic tone. Add to the mix a smattering of humour and you have storytelling at its most engaging.
The Girl with the Iron Claws is an inspired production that mixes passionate storytelling with inventive creativity and deserves to be seen by all.