In 1807 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began collecting fairy-tales and folk tales to include in their new book, the first collection of its kind. Grimm: An Untold Tale sheds light on the women who were instrumental in collecting, telling and preserving these stories, but who are often left unacknowledged and overlooked.
The script by Jodie Garnish is sharp, witty and diligently researched. And though there are moments where Grimm feels a little like docudrama or an English lesson with its very cautious exposition, the company under the direction of Gemma Aked Priestly, bring the text to life with an absolute realness, full of imaginative riches and wonderfully performed.
The three performers of the ensemble use mulitroling, music and physicality to tell the story of the three key women, Dortchen, Dorothea and Marie. Garnish herself plays Dortchen, who becomes infatuated with the collecting of tales; a part which she, as a writer, must have a particular affinity with – and it really shows. Indigo Griffiths is thoughtful and precise as Marie, the girl trapped in a metaphorical tower. And Ellie Whitaker stands out as the wonderfully sharp-tongued and short-tempered Dorothea. David Green provides the music from a corner of the stage, using his voice and guitar to create atmosphere and break occasionally into boisterous folk songs. Though the music is well implemented throughout, and a real asset to the story, the placement of Green onstage as a member of the ensemble should perhaps be reassessed. To me, he seems a little incongruous with the piece and a bit of a clunky presence – though as a musician he’s excellent.
This is a story about the very nature of storytelling – as a legacy, a pastime, a distraction and a necessity. Whether it’s the brothers’ academic pursuits or Dorothea giving what little she can to her boys, these stories have a very real importance to each of the characters. As the Napoleonic Army descends on Germany, and their lives are torn apart, the collecting of German folktales seem ever more important to some, and ever more fruitless to others. Grimm carefully explores the human connection to storytelling, and really ponders its importance – particularly in times of suffering. As one woman puts it, “You cannot feed your family on golden eggs and gingerbread houses.”
But of course stories are important; that’s the inevitable conclusion of this play which is itself a real testament to storytelling. Even now, a couple of hundred years on, the women who brought the tales to the Grimm brothers go unrecognised for their achievements. This play not only illuminates the injustices done to these women, but also the problem of women throughout history who have been overlooked or erased from the books, and who continue to be unrecognised.