Bec Applebee

The Wooden Frock

The Guardian review

Fri 6 Feb 2004

If theatre were a box of chocolates, then this co-production between Kneehigh Theatre and BAC would be the champagne truffle in a dark chocolate robe. It is light, scrumptious and has the right tang of bitterness as it slips down. You want to go back for another bite. And I don’t find myself saying that often after two-and-a-half hours in the theatre.

Essentially, it is a variation on the traditional Cinderella story. Instead of a slipper, there is a ring – a far more potent sexual symbol. Except in this case, Mary discovers that if the ring fits you shouldn’t wear it, because her suitor is her own father, who promised his beloved dead wife that he would marry whomever her old wedding ring fitted. There is a wonderful scene when Mary, a little girl dressing up in her mother’s clothes, discovers with increasing horror that she can remove neither coat nor ring. She has, in effect, become her mother.

Emma Rice, responsible for Kneehigh’s The Red Shoes, is the director, and the show has the same simplicity and artfulness. It walks the high wire between tragedy and pantomime. It melds folk and jazz, the blues and country and western. It knows that love is a song, that grief warps us and that innocence is no substitute for experience.

The actors have some of the compulsive, slightly eccentric air in both looks and presence that is so often found in Complicite shows. They convey the impression that they are making up the play as they go along – and the emphasis is very much on play.
The second half needs a little mending, particularly the opening scene, which gives audience and actors the challenge of a new situation and new characters. The geese make up for it. “Live for the moment,” advises one of the characters. This is always in the moment, and the audience is too.

Lyn Gardner