Urban Fairytales is a collection of reworked stories for a modern audience. These are stories with a more urban, edgy feel, and a contemporary message. Told by a young and promising cast from Bishop Stortford College, this is a new play from playwright Ben Richard. The cast take us on a rollercoaster of a journey through a collection of twisted tales, with recurring themes and characters to link the text together. Little Red Riding Hood, the Little Match Girl, and the Three Little Pigs are all ripe for updating, and the cast perform with commitment and touches of humour. There are some sketches that work better than others, such as a sketch using a clever use of a split costume to convey two contrasting characters. Their puppetry skills are also of note, creating a believable characterisation. However, there are also several stereotypically portrayed characters (Jewish and Chinese) that border on the offensive. More often aiming to shock rather than entertain, there were a few laughs to be had here and there. Whilst belly-laughter could be heard from members of the production crew (never a good sign), for the audience it was a more bemusing affair. The cast do their best with a script that is clearly beyond their experience, if not their abilities. They handle it well and there are some nice uses of choral speaking and ensemble movement to create a backdrop, even if lacking a little in slickness. A couple of fluffed lighting cues didn’t help the proceedings and neither did the projections’ focus, which became progressively off-target as the show went on.
The main problem with this production is that at its heart is an agenda. This is an overtly political piece with a message to convey and it uses children to do it. A self-proclaimed anarchist, the playwright wants to show the world how desperately wrong it has got it. We may have grown up with fairytales wherein the baddies were wolves and goblins, but here it is the capitalists and the authorities. Aiming for social satire, this play falls wide of the mark. Hearing teenagers sing about there being ‘something fundamentally wrong with the capital con’ seems a bit incongruous from students from a leading public school. This isn’t to say they don’t have the right to hold the views expressed in the text - or indeed to simply perform the words they have been given as actors - but it just doesn’t sit well as a marriage of text and visuals. That the production has been made possible by the backing of a hedge fund manager seems disingenuous at best. Ultimately, this play is something of a mess, valiantly handled by a young cast. Fairytales work because they are fantasy stories that teach a universal moral lesson. Urban Fairytales uses reality to push a specific agenda, and it uses young people to do it. Ultimately, there is something mismatched and distasteful about the result.