The Grandmother’s Grimm – Assembly Roxy

Written by Emily Ingram

Directed by Gerry Kielty and Emily Ingram

Rating: 5 out of 5.

On a dark, dark night, in a dark, dark room, two brothers sit and conspire. Their names are pre-eminent with history; Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – but they aren’t alone in this room, for two women are also present at the birth of a compendium of children’s tales which will revolutionise children’s literature and folklore forever. However, you won’t see these names within the pages of the Brothers’ book, but if you look hard enough, and far back enough, you will find the names attached to some familiar faces; Marie Hassenpflug and Old Marie – who shared with their tales of deceit, love and murder. Of beasts and werewolves, cannibalism and spindles with the Brothers, they were the matriarchs of fairytales and this is their tale.

Returning to its initial premiere stage at the Assembly Roxy, Some Kind of Theatre continues their Scottish tour of The Grandmother’s Grimm – a tongue-in-cheek biography, not solely of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm, but of the dozens of unspoken storytellers they ‘borrowed’. One evening, the brothers host Marie Hassenpflug, an author in her own right, and one whose version of notable fairy tales may sound awfully familiar. Gradually as the evening moves forward, the three begin to share other stories and adapt them for the book, Wilhelm wishing to dial out the macabre nature for children, Jacob seeking authenticity.  

But there’s one voice which remains silent at first – Old Marie, a woman, like so many, with much to share but faded into the background, only emerging when required. Drawing influence and life out of the dust of history, writer and co-director Emily Ingram channels a flourish from Marie as a storyteller and essential part of each narrative. She enables the variety of stories to be shared, and aids in buffering the tougher subjects with the audience as an outsider to the Brothers writing.

As debonair and charming as Justin Skelton and Gerry Kielty may be as the Brothers Grimm, they possess an uneasy nature, ruthless and in moments aggressive: two men determined to have their way. The unpleasant nature of either brother is hinted towards, though never fully divulged, ensuring the production maintains its focus on the origins of storytelling and the sources behind the tales. But it’s difficult not to forget the bursts of aggression, especially in the face of rich humour – spared of contemporary reference.

Kielty and Skelton partake in the physical nature of comedy, though both Ingram and Michelle Kelly have their parts to play through expression. From the small stature of Little Red to the trotting and grunts of the Pig Prince, Kielty and Skelton draw out the inner-child skulking in the audience. But like an authentic Grimm tale, it isn’t all champagne and caviar. There’s an edge to the production, a sharp one at that. Though the bloodshed and violence may contain themselves to the fairytales, Ingram’s writing challenges the preconceptions and the lighting design, though minimal, reflects the bloodlust, envy and greed the characters may cross.

As near perfect as possible, the embers of potential keep the production alive for future tours and re-visits. The passion present within the cast and crew is clear, with a script that leans into the melodrama, The Grandmother’s Grimm has the making of a fully-fledged two-act show, with the creative know-how behind it to achieve this. But then again, the production is rare, evoking the long-lost art of fireside storytelling or the bard’s tale on a night in the local tavern. Ingram’s story could echo into the night, and the audience would hang on every word long past the stroke of Midnight. And perhaps that’s exactly how it should stay.

For as much as the world owes the Brother’s Grimm a debt for their collaborative works, sparking imaginations and calming terrorised tots, it is time the eroded names of the women behind these tales took precedence. The wet nurses, peddlers and chambermaids who existed as second-class citizens to the men surrounding them, who traded on the skills it thought no man could take from them – their stories. Marie Hassenpflug and Old Marie are just some of the numerous names who haven’t found themselves on banknotes, or the shelves of book stores, but without them, Briar Rose may never have pricked her finger, Snow White wouldn’t have bitten the apple, and a peculiar young woman may never have donned her red hood.

For further dates and details, information and tickets can be booked from Some Kind of Theatre here.

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