Printable CopyGRETEL
Bakehouse Theatre
Until 24 Feb 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

There are so many things that make the Fringe Festival special, but one of the best is the opportunity to give an audience to young and emerging artists. Scrambled Prince Theatre Company is a perfect example of this; they are a touring performing arts group from Eltham High School in Melbourne, and provide opportunities for their students to create and perform innovative theatre. “Gretel” is one such work, developed by the members of the cast, all fourteen of whom are teenage girls. One of the actors, Clare Steele, co-wrote the script with George Franklin, and Steele also write the music and lyrics that are featured in the performance. The show is a compelling tribute to female empowerment, combining fairytale tropes with a modern social consciousness. The ideas presented in the play are not new, but that doesn’t stop them from being any less important. While it is a little rough around the edges, “Gretel” represents how stories can be used to embolden heroes and start a revolution.

Shayla Ribchester plays Gretel, a young girl who runs away from her village after her teacher is arrested for teaching the class about geometry and art, and that they can be more than just wives and mothers. Ribchester’s looks and voice are right out of Hans Christian Anderson; she carries the emotional weight of the story with confidence, and she brings a groundedness to this other-worldly tale. The rest of the cast largely features as the ensemble, with some of them stepping out to take on the other key roles. Emer Raffety is enchanting as The Old Woman, and Lili Smith as The Crow has strong characterisation, though doesn’t quite have the depth to pack the emotional punch required. While Hannah Smailes lacks the power that the role of The Witch demands, she plays off Ribchester well. The true stand-out of the cast is Maia von Erkel-Bromley as Joseph, Gretel’s father. This slight, young teenage girl becomes a terrifying force of oppression, and it is chilling.

Using fairytale tropes to highlight a topical social issue is not an original idea, the script is clever and poignant enough to make it feel innovative. It plays around with the very idea of fairytales, overtly referencing their features, and the story moves at a cracking pace, though still lets moments sit when they need to. The songs are simple, and the singing is unpolished, but the sound of this chorus of young girls is bold and powerful, especially the first time they break into harmony. The acapella is eerily compelling, and the use of body percussion sets the dark and ominous tone perfectly. The costuming is simple but effective, and employs the Brechtian technique of characters changing in full view of the audience. The set is largely made up of the bodies of the ensemble, and the cast is so well choreographed it works beautifully.

“Gretel” is a simple story, but the message is emboldening, and the execution is to be commended, even more so when you consider the age of the cast and creators of the show. These young women are a force to be reckoned with, and it’s a privilege to see.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)