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The Girl With The Iron Claws
Published on Saturday, 26 May 2012

5 stars

The Warren (venue website)
24-25 May, 6:30pm-7:30pm
Reviewed by Jonathon Manning

 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.
 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

Theatre company The Wrong Crowd make it clear that The Girl with the Iron Claws is aimed as much at adults as it is at children.  Word seems to have gotten round too, as although the audience is speckled with children, mostly it’s the faces of grown-ups that you will see in the theatre.

The plot centres on a little known fairy tale that follows, as might be expected, the youngest daughter of a King.  The girl, discontent with staying within the confines of the palace gardens, adventures out into the woods where she spies a golden ring.  Having seen the ring in her dreams, the princess bargains with the great bear Valemon until she has traded herself for the magnificent band.

The plot itself is nothing new and touches on well-known fairy tales, most noticeably “Beauty and the Beast”; it soon becomes apparent that Valemon was once a human king.  What makes the Wrong Crowd’s production stand out is not the originality of their plot but the beauty of their story telling.

Part of this is down to the simplicity of the set.   Immediately, the audience’s focus is directed towards the iron claws elevated on a workbench in the centre of the stage.  There is little else to distract the eye except a number of wooden ladders, which help frame the area and create a rustic image setting for the piece.  Other props are used throughout the play but are quickly removed when not needed.  This dynamic gives great pace and helps bring the story to life, by allowing more emphasis to be placed on the actors’ words and gestures.

Equally as impressive is the play’s use of puppetry, which ranges in style and size to reflect the mood of each situation.  The cast’s use of the puppets is a joy to watch as they walk on the actors’ feet to enter rooms, or are scorned for not leaving their handler’s side.  In the case of Valemon and the Troll Queen however, the puppetry is used more to frighten and awe the audience. Valemon’s flowing movements and great arms give the illusion of the beast running through the forest, while when the Troll Queen is angered, she appears as a hideous giant head and claws.

That’s not to say that there is no humour in the play.  On the contrary, much of the dialogue will have the audience laughing together.  Arran Glass adds much of this comedy as he flits between the role of the blacksmith narrator and the king flawlessly, while moving the story along with well-judged pace.  Although the giant puppet of the Troll Queen is designed to be frightening, when Laura Cairns plays the role she adds a comic twist to the character through her flirtatious advances towards Valemon.

The Wrong Crowd have not just acted out a fairy tale, but have successfully created a world in which it belongs.  Their vivid narration, combined with their enthralling puppetry and simplistic use of props, allows the audience to easily imagine every word of the story as it is being told.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.