Kneehigh Theatre, The Wooden Frock

Review in Issue 16-2 | Summer 2004

Revelling in the darkness, eroticism, physicality, bawdiness and comedy of the folk tale, Kneehigh's The Wooden Frock is a little-known variation on the Cinderella story. Some aspects of the narrative are familiar: the dead mother as guardian spirit; the impossibly beautiful dress to go to the ball; the prince and his anonymous dancing partner. Other elements of this version are new, such as the proposed incestuous marriage between Mary (the Cinderella of the tale) and her father; her protection by a dress made of wood; her decline from virgin daughter into sewage runaway.

Although there are moments in this production when the clarity of the storytelling begins to slip, and narrative leaps occur that aren't entirely made sense of on stage, this is clearly a production by a company that takes joy in the challenge of transforming stories from oral tradition into popular theatre. The moments when the pleasure of the actors in playing with and for a live audience is apparent, and when the visual language of the stage captures the emotional heart of the story – such as when Mary repeats a litany of body parts she cannot see under her wooden cage, or when a wedding dress of stars is lifted above the stage – are full of a profound beauty and joy. The company don't always manage to maintain this, and the scenes when the style shifts away from the self-consciousness of playing to the fiction of acting are weaker than the rest.

This is a production that only occasionally manages to soar, but when it does take flight, it offers something really special. With wonderful performances from Amanda Lawrence and Alex Murdoch, in turn revealing the tragic and comic edges of the tale, and both utterly absorbed in the moment of their roles, The Wooden Frock is a really good piece of theatre that isn't quite the sum of its parts.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 2004

This article in the magazine

Issue 16-2
p. 25