Goblin Market is one of my favourite poems. Violent, sensuous, and redemptive, it also lends itself well to stage adaptation. Given its Bacchic imagery, Jennifer Jewell could have been tempted to make this an all-singing, all-dancing, busy show, where the staging would overwhelm the words; luckily though, she knew better. Jewell’s solo performance provides all the excitement of a bigger production, but keeps the focus on telling a fantastic story.
Goblin Market tells the story of two sisters, Lizzy and Laura, and their close encounter with the sinister goblin merchants who sell forbidden fruit. The poem is Rossetti’s most daring work, and is often discussed in relation to sexual themes; the more risqué aspects of the poem are often brought to the fore at the Fringe. But Jewell refreshingly avoids this, allowing a brighter light to shine on the power of sisterly love and redemption. That’s not to say the performance lacks sensuality or intensity – the scene in which Laura gorges herself on the goblin fruit is still wonderfully visceral – and the bluegrass soundtrack, made for the show, is used sparingly to great effect.
The setting in Depression-era Appalachia might well be inspired by Jewell’s natural southern drawl, but it also works perfectly. The biblical tone of the poem fits well into a time and place where desperation reigned, and evangelical Christianity took root. If you have no idea what the American South during the Depression looked like, it won’t detract from you experience as an audience member; but if you do know a bit about the setting, it presents an intriguing window into the performance.
Yet even had Jewell not chosen to tweak the setting, her accent would have been the last thing on the audience’s mind. Her stellar performance reflects a real passion and respect for Rossetti’s work. She is captivating as impulsive Laura and upstanding Lizzy, but her real triumph is in her impression of the goblins. Creepy, nasty, and often quite funny, Jewell throws herself into the performance of each goblin character so completely, she is almost unrecognisable as the person who had been Lizzie moments ago.
At 45 minutes, Goblin Market moves at a rollicking pace; it’s at the shorter end of what you expect from a Fringe show, but it’s no less worthy of the ticket price. This is a show that does exactly what theatre should do at the Fringe – entertain and enthral. In amongst all the Fringe hijinks, it’s refreshing to see a work that showcases the power of a single, superb actor.