Rose Red lifts the veil on an old tale

2011-11-26 10:47

Fairy tales are very useful as a means of gently introducing children to the fact that the world can often be an unpleasant, malicious and brutal place to live in.

As adults we become so well aware of this fact that we ourselves begin to view the princesses, sugar-plum fairies and enchanted woods with a cynical eye, refusing to believe that any of it ever was, or could be, pure.

Turn these fairy tales inside out, however, and their enchantment is regained for those of us whose grasp on to a childhood slipped in the maelstrom of teenagedom.

Mostly, the very act of achieving adulthood and negotiating the responsibilities that come with it means we have nurtured our predatory and survival instincts, leaving us with more in common with the wolf than Little Red Riding Hood.

Having lost our empathy with innocence, we roll our eyes at the thought of watching Snow White on stage, but watching her evil stepmother is an entertaining prospect.

Which is perhaps why there’s been a small flurry of fairy tales retold for adults from the antagonist’s point of view on stage and screen of late, but despite this taint to Rose Red’s originality, the play drew me into its world and mocked comparison with similar endeavours.

From the moment she entered stage right, corseted and in black, lit by not much more than the candle she held, Dianne Simpson was bewitching.

A witch as witches should be: dark, handsome, mature, and beguiling – despite the fact that she died falling off a cliff aeons ago.

Her side of the story gives the lie to the easy prejudices and simplistic presumptions with which we try to make sense of life.

Who knew that the Evil Queen, the wicked stepmother who poisoned Snow White, was just a woman trying her best to do her best. Vain. Yes, of course she was.

But well-meaning. And so misunderstood.

Under Simpson’s pen her tale so long untold, unfolds with humour, song and wit, with just a touch of melancholy in the right places as, at the site of her last encounter with her stepdaughter where leaves, cobwebs, dust and neglect cast a pall over seven little mugs and seven little overturned stools at a little table, she attempts to set the record straight.

Accompanied by musical director Dawid Boverhoff on piano, Simpson segues from story into songs such as Tori Amos’s Winter and Lady Gaga’s Pokerface.

I not only did not shudder at Pokerface or freeze in apprehension at Winter, but felt she did a better job than either of those artists – or the others whose voices we’ve come to regard as the standard by which certain songs are measured.

With not a note out of place or an emphasis mislaid, Simpson delivers a performance that is faultless as she lifts the veil from the shadow of an old tale, bringing to light some truths we often pretend are not there.

After having spent years – decades – convincing ourselves there are no monsters in the cupboard as we snuggle ourselves into comfortable lives, Simpson effortlessly throws open the doors, revealing that good intentions can have bad consequences and an act of evil can be for the good.

» Rose Red plays at the Kalk Bay Theatre in Cape Town from Wednesdays to Saturdays until December 10. Tickets can be booked on

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