Annabel Betts is Little Red Riding Hood in Grimm Tales. Photograph: Tom Medwell
Annabel Betts is Little Red Riding Hood in Grimm Tales. Photograph: Tom Medwell

Immersive theatre comes to Shoreditch Town Hall this month with a stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old.

Audience members are guided through the stunning fairytale world assembled in the basement catacombs of Shoreditch Town Hall. This unique space, a web of dark subterranean rooms, has been transformed into a forkloric neverland, with faded white dresses hanging from the stairwell and scraps of poetry and old photographs lining the walls.

Five fairytales have been plucked from Philip Pullman’s 2012 book. Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel will be known to everyone, but are told here in full macabre detail. Simon Wegrzyn is a wonderfully wicked wolf, fleet of foot and devilishly sly, the perfect foil for Red Riding Hood, played with wide-eyed naivete by Annabel Betts.

The staging and set design is exemplary. Granny’s bed is vertical, so the audience, assembled on two sides of a long room, see the gory denoument from above, and in Rapunzel the tower prison is layed across the stage floor. This production has clearly not been done on the cheap, though some of the best details are simple ones. A chest in the centre of the room in The Three Snake Leaves, a tale of misplaced love and treachery, becomes a tomb, a boat and an instrument of war, while in The Juniper Tree a murdered boy seeks revenge on his stepmother by becoming a bird, represented on stage by an umbrella. Director Philip Wilson’s adaptation of Pullman’s text is swiftly-paced and clever; characters narrate the tales as well as being part of them, a nod to the oral tradition from which Grimm Tales originated.

The humour is dark and edgy and there is a well-developed sense of the bizarre in stories such as Hans-My-Hedgehog, a tale of a half-man, half-hedgehog creature who rides a cockerel and herds pigs while sitting in a tree playing the bagpipes. The Brothers Grimm may well have approved.

Grimm Tales for Young and Old is at Shoreditch Town Hall, 380 Old Street, EC1V 9LT until 24 April.


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