Melbourne Fringe 2016

Half Brothers Grimm, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 19 September 2016

Words by Brooke Munday

When the Grimm brothers published their first collection of famous German fairy tales they couldn’t have predicted the phenomenon that would ensue, nor could they have guessed that just over 200 years later those same fairy tales would be transformed into the slapstick musical medley that is the Half Brothers Grimm.

The show, written and produced by Charlie Lewin and performed by Charlie Lewin and Luke Rocca, centres around Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, half brothers and sons of literary scholar, Phillip Grimm. Following a turbulent childhood relationship and years of separation, Jacob and Wilhelm reunite to revive their father’s publishing business. From there the pair embark on a tale of failed romance, out of the box—or perhaps, out of the closet—thinking and general mayhem in their endeavours to publish their first book: a twisting of townsfolk stories with magic, havoc, and the occasional death for good measure.

From the onset we were informed that the prop book on stage definitely did not contain the script, a lie that might have held more comedic value if the actors didn’t seem to actually need it. Maybe it was nerves but their occasional reliance on the prop felt unprepared and off-kilter.

After a rocky opening and a couple of minor set malfunctions, the story settled into a comfortable rhythm as the characters transitioned from young children to young adults, with a plethora of petty problems and dysfunctional relationships to keep them occupied.

The shows’ biggest asset was the acting ability of its stars. From sassy toddlers to better-than-you-deserve milk maids, Half Brothers Grimm was filled with vibrant characterisation and smooth transitions. Lewin’s off-script antics and Rocca’s improvised asides were some of its best moments. However the same cannot be said for its script.

There is a saying, ‘Bad actors can make good writing seem bad but good actors cannot make bad writing seem good.’ Unfortunately this was the case with Half Brothers Grimm. The story ark was riddled with clichés, the pacing felt rushed and the development, forced. The script had promise but 50 minutes was not enough time to do this show justice. It would have benefitted from an extra half an hour to slow down and properly build character and plot.

What’s more, the show couldn’t seem to decide the era in which it wanted to be set and ultimately suffered for it. The minimalist Brechtian backdrops and costuming did nothing to help; mixing renaissance clothing and locations with millennial humour and technology, it struggled to find a satirical sweet spot. However credit should be given for the witty running commentary and self-depreciating humour of the actors, both in and out of character.

So while the story itself wasn’t as polished as it could have been, Lewin and Rocca pulled it off on their own merit. And in the words of Wilhelm Grimm, “I love it when you talk plot exposition.”

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