A Fair Tale about a Fairy Trade borrows the Cinderella story as the basis for a musical about the sex trade and human trafficking. With a live band on stage, a teenage Prince Charming, and catchy numbers, A Fair Tale… mixes a traditional narrative with storytelling form to explore a pertinent issue.
The story begins as you would expect – Ci-Ci (as she is nicknamed) wants to go to the ball, or in this case, a high school party. On her way home, after a lovely kiss with Prince Charming, she’s abducted and forced into the sex trade – and her family and Prince Charming spend the rest of their time looking for her. The combination of these two strands seems a little clunky and forced, though admittedly A Fair Tale… never claims to be realistic.
The music is brilliant, merging operatic singing over jazz and pop tunes, and very well-performed by musicians and cast alike. Lyrics like “life is not a fairy-tale” and “I would rather be born a man” resonate, yet don’t force their point too brashly. There are other nice touches, such as voice-overs of testimony from victims, and the exploration of the difficulty of actually forming a case against sex traffickers with limited testimony and legal obstacles.
But I can't overlook the sheer bizarreness of the piece. Rather than subvert the expectations of the Cinderella story, or play with adaptation in another way, A Fair Tale… glues together two stories without getting to the heart of either of them. Though it's a pretty interesting concept, the story didn’t feel cohesive, and led me to wonder how much the fairy-tale element actually added to the wider narrative about sex trafficking.
More problematically, Ci-Ci’s story is overtaken by the romantic element of the tale. Prince Charming sings lyrics like “I should have never let you go”, and storms into the brothel, guns blazing, to save Ci-Ci from her unjust fate. In a different context this would be fine, but here it is a simplification of such an important issue, and one which still places women under the control of men.
But it is hard not to be moved by a story of this ilk – and for what it is, A Fair Tale… has had a good stab at a difficult and original premise. There is something jarring and affecting about such a dark issue being explored through song, and something refreshing in the way it steps away from gritty realism. Though a little odd, and meriting more work, it is an engaging watch which admirably explores very important issues.