The Lost Happy Endings – Festival Theatre

Original Story by Carol Ann Duffy

Choreography by Liv Lorent

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Happy endings seem hard to come back right now, don’t they? It’s difficult in the present climate to appreciate the smaller things, to find joy and solace in a story or two. And often, the chipperness in those tales that guided us through childhood and remind us that patience, hard work, and courage could sometimes result in a Happily Ever After seem ireful. But what if they ended differently? What if, in some twisted and macabre manner, the happy endings never came to fruition? If Snow White never awoke, if Alice drowned in her tears, and what if Hansel and Gretel become the Witches’ supper?

Poet Laurette Carol Ann Duffy has long been an associate scenario creator with BalletLORENT; her grim delight in the parallels of contemporary life and fairy-tales are a treasure-trove of conceptual ideas. Her manipulation of familiar stories into complex and intricate beings of commentary or originality is paramount, and together with Liv Lorent, the two have sculpted brilliance with The Lost Happy Endings.

Alone in the deep forest, illuminated by the light of a pale waxy moon, Jub awakens for an evening like any other – full of dreams, glee and mirth, providing these happy endings and thoughts to children across the world, aided by her four-legged and winged friends. Her magical sack contains all the wonderment imaginable, glittering in the starlight, producing bouncing orbs of dreams and fairy-tale magic. But of course, not everyone allows themselves a happy ending. Some choose to besmirch theirs, tainted by the pain of trauma and heartache. And some, above all else, want nothing more than to see these happy endings snuffed out.

Torn straight from the pages of a Grim tale, BalletLORENT is a visual splendour, a spectacle of magnitude with a charmingly vicious twist on the fairy-tale originals. From an ever-spinning Sleepy Beauty to a breakdancing Snow White, the choreography is unique for each character, and though not always to the performers best capabilities, makes for a sense of individualism and even growth. Nasir Mazhar’s costumes tip the balance into the realms of visual magnificence, a sublime infusion of intricate but stripped-back. Crickets and Big Bad Wolves come alive with a few well-devised pieces and articulate movements, nothing overbearing, synergised with the choreography. 

Now, if only the pacing could follow suit. The Lost Happy Endings suffers a slowing drive of attention, where momentum drops as the projection takes over from the live performers. At first, Ben Crompton’s Dramaturg locates a delicate balance in storytelling and movement – all conducted and paced with the sublime narration by Joanna Lumley. But it begins to dip as the production moves to close the opening piece, which Benedicta Valentina Mamuini worked hard to captivate audiences. 

Initially, a sly way to get around the lack of in-person child dancers, the sequence hangs on longer than the waning moon should allow – unfortunately, this perverts the dance too, where time stretches out with the intimacy or dexterity of movement, becoming more lengthy and repetitive. Yet, the wonder and technique Benedicta Valentina Mamuini conveys as Jub aids in preserving the timeless nature of the production, moving with a lightness and delicacy which carries the audience on this wayward journey.

Malicious, cruel and intoxicatingly mean-spirited, once the performance enters its darker façade, The Lost Happy Endings slathers itself in the Grimm and gruesomeness that makes these fables all the more delectable. Almost sensual in moments, Lorent’s structure of movement is intuitive, from the flickers and static jerks of the Grasshopper to the spindling legs and unearthly contortion Gwen Berwick conducts as the Witch, a delight to watch whenever she commands the stage. And under Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting, the entire production bounces into an ethereal and arcane realm.

Happy Endings may feel far away, but with faith and hope, they return in droves to wipe the nightmares and aggressions to give way to a new, contemporary field of fairytale finales. They may not be as we remember, some may even improve, and Carol Ann Duffy’s ability to take the origins of mythos and weave them amidst the knotted trees and looming moons makes for an addictive piece. BalletLORENT invests a wealth of talent and energy within their productions, and The Lost Happy Endings not only serves as a fine introduction for younger viewers but a way to re-capture the magic perhaps missing from older lives.

The Lost Happy Endings in currently touring, dates and locations can be found here.

Photo Credit – Luke Waddington

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