As I walked into the Scottish Storytelling Centre I was greeted by a delightfully impish man in a wizard’s robe assigning fairy names to all the children (and adults if you want) from a giant book. I was already a bit enchanted. The set was modest, just a few piles of hay strewn about the stage, but my curiosity was peaked. The children whispered excitedly as the lights dimmed and the man, storyteller and puppet-maker Andy Lawrence, read the roll-call. But as the show began, the wheel of fortune started to come away from its track.
It is clear that Lawrence loves what he does and he is a wonderful puppet-maker but unfortunately, at least in the case of Rumpelstiltskin, he is not a master storyteller. The sets are interesting miniature scenes which would be spellbinding were they to appear as if by magic, but instead they are assembled during a few clunky transitional periods requiring the storyteller to unlatch, unhook, untie and repin each new scene.
There are moments of delight throughout the show and of course, as with every Theatre of Widdershins production, gorgeously rendered puppets. The biggest misstep to the show is simply the lack of a second puppeteer or even just a second pair of hands. Transitioning back and forth from puppet to puppet is strange; hearing the limp hanging doll speak before the storyteller can give it life took much of the magic from the show. But truth to tell, all of this would be forgivable, owing to the fact that it is a solo show, but for the overriding issue is that Widdershins has created a cast of really unlikeable characters, including Polly Buckwheat, who comes across as a narcissistic brat from the moment we meet her, leaving the audience to wonder why they should even care. This is a story of transformation, not just from hay into gold, but where goodness overcomes evil.
In the end, the children, who were somewhat engaged but far from transfixed, enjoyed the show. I hope given a couple more performances in the space the show will settle in and the magic will return. One note of caution, the puppet Rumpelstiltskin is a bit of a shock so if your wee one is easily frightened, you might want to sit near the back for a little distance and a rapid exit. Overall, if you have children and you like the story of Rumpelstiltskin, this is a fine show, not spellbinding, but a pleasant enough distraction in a lovely theatre with air conditioning.