We’re all familiar with the Grimm Brothers: their collection of folk tales and fairy stories has flourished through the years. But what of the people they collected the stories from, and those who helped them find more tales? Over half of the narratives were collected by or from women, and here, finally, they get to tell their own story.
It is 1807. Inspired by recent collections of folk songs, the brothers have begun a project to collect the stories of the land. They call upon the local women to provide them; with their sister acting as scribe, story circles every Friday ignite the passion, and when a hardened local vegetable seller joins too the tales pour in. The stories are flowing, but all is not well – Napoleon's march across the continent soon engulfs the town, bringing conscription, violence, and an urgent new reason to preserve their culture.
This show follows the women's lives, intertwining them with the fairytales they collect and a smattering of songs both traditional and more modern. We learn their hopes, fears and histories, and we see how their families face the invasion. The cast are excellent storytellers, riveting you with their engaging tales – and the storytelling structure paces the piece well. The lives of the women are well-played too; they are allowed to be interesting, feisty characters, and although their reactions to the final publication seem cut short, the envelopes containing extra notes to be read at the end are a lovely touch.
The minimal props and costumes are pitched just right to distinguish the characters, making it easy to follow the action while keeping the focus on the stories. I enjoyed the songs too, with an effective accompaniment on the guitar, although it must be said that some were slightly out of tune. It was good to hear some less well-known tales and endings as well, especially the second time Red and her Grandmother meet a wolf.
Some of the earlier scenes felt a little disconnected, and the piece as a whole never quite developed the momentum I felt it could have done. But overall, this show does a fine job, not only of bringing the women in it to life but of setting the whole collection within European history. It is a good fit for anyone who enjoys folk tales or women's history, achieving what it sets out to do by casting light on these overlooked heroines.