Paper Doll Militia: This Twisted Tale

This Twisted Tale is a modern fairytale, a coming-of-age story played out with vim and vigour by two female performers using a whole toolbox of theatrical tricks that includes circus (aerial and pole), puppetry, projection, shadow theatre, verbal storytelling, and dialogue – with feisty physical performances binding it all together.

First we meet Chloe – platinum pigtails, white bloomers, and an innocent air – the type of girl who floats through the world, teased by her peers for being childish and dreamy. Chloe’s mother, we learn, is ‘too tired’ to play with her, so she tells herself stories using her precious puppets (Wayang Kulit style flat figures on sticks). So there are numerous little plays within the play as Chloe tells the tale of Mary who ‘dove into the sea to see how mermaids pee’.

Chloe doesn’t really have any friends, other than her puppets, and spends a lot of time alone in the playground – which is represented very beautifully onstage by a an oversized swing, a set of monkey bars, and a lampost that doubles as a ‘Chinese pole’, all ready for the climbing…

Enter the ‘tumbling and whirling’ Luce (short for Lucifer, we suspect) – all punk posturing and petulance, a glorious mess of red curls, Cleopatra eyeliner, and black leather boots. She’s the devil incarnate: the new girl in town, or Chloe’s imaginary friend, or her alter-ego – choose your interpretation – a Peter Pan character who stays just where she is whilst Chloe grows and changes, yet is catalyst to those changes through her provocations.

The relationship between the two characters (or perhaps we should call them archetypes) is played out on the playground-cum-circus equipment in a series of acrobatic and aerial duets, and in the spoken text that is sometimes delivered a little breathlessly with rather too many crackles and clicks as the radio mics respond grumpily to the shaking about afforded them by the aerial work. This all augmented by the simple but sweet shadow puppet vignettes, played on a little portable booth, and supported by a very lovely soundscape of distorted music-box melodies and toy piano arpeggios composed by Grid Iron associate artist David Paul Jones. Talking of Grid Iron, their director Ben Harrison has also had a hand in this as a co-director/dramaturg.

It is a charming and poignant piece that tackles the marriage between circus skills and theatrical storytelling with great gusto. It doesn’t always succeed: the text needs a lot of work, both in the editing and in the delivery, but This Twisted Tale is adventurous in its aims and can thus be forgiven a few glitches.

My one major criticism is that although it is good to have the story pulled into Chloe’s future (with a very lovely girl-to-woman transformation scene that is done with great clarity and elegance), the inclusion of strictly adult content in such lines as ‘maybe if you were that passionate with your husband he’d fuck you more’ means that the show cannot be marketed at the audience that would be an ideal target – young people in the 11-15 year-old age group, just hitting puberty and really interested in the subject of self-discovery and self-determination. I’d advise the company to rethink some of the script decisions – a story about the development and empowerment of young women is just what the world needs, and although the dark elements are key to the narrative,it is possible to represent this theatrically in a way that could bring the show to its widest audience.

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer working in theatre, dance, live art and street arts. Under her alter-ego Dorothy’s Shoes she creates performance work that both honours and usurps the traditions of popular dance and theatre, and plays with the relationship between performer and audience. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She is also co-director of street theatre/dance company The Ragroof Players.

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