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The Ash Girl
Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace @ Venue45 (venue website)
Theatre
13-16 Aug, 11:45am-1:15pm
Reviewed by Brianne Moore

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

Before you head in to The Ash Girl, forget everything you know about the Cinderella story. There are no cute animal companions to help our heroine out. Instead of being comedic or slightly menacing, the stepsisters and stepmother are repulsive, and physically as well as emotionally abusive. Chirpy songs have been replaced by Florence + The Machine's ominous Seven Devils, and the disappearance of the Ash Girl's father has taken a decidedly sinister tone. There is no light and merriment; here, there be monsters.

It's refreshing to see a familiar, well-trod story reworked and played with, and The Ash Girl admirably succeeds in making a tale we all know off by heart fresh again. It combines theatre, music, and dance to tell the Cinderella story, and what a dark story it is, full of political and social commentary. The prince is an exiled royal longing to fight for his rightful throne; the stepmother's greed and inhumanity was born from her own abusive childhood, and Sadness always casts a pall over the proceedings.

What this show does that other versions of the story don't is explore the Ash Girl's pervasive depression. It's strange that other versions of Cinderella ignore this aspect - after all, this girl has lost both her parents as well as her fortune, and is horribly abused by the people who are supposed to be caring for her. Who wouldn't be depressed under those circumstances? This adaptation embraces that idea wholeheartedly, making Sadness an actual character moving sinuously around the stage and seducing the Ash Girl to the very brink of suicide. Her presence is felt even when she's offstage - the show has a heaviness to it, and a chill. Even the fairy godmother seems sad.

Thankfully, the play doesn't rely on gimmicks, props, or overblown costumes, any of which would have been distracting. The eight cast members are dressed simply in black, signifying changes in roles simply by rearranging a colourful scarf or putting on a black lace mask. Props are equally minimal; they clearly trust the audience's imagination to fill in any blanks. I wish, though, that the writer had trusted the audience in the same way that the designer does. There were times when things were blatantly stated when it was completely unnecessary (it's obvious, for instance, that the animals in the evil forest personify each of the seven deadly sins; we don't actually need to be told that.)

For those looking for a new take on Cinderella, The Ash Girl is definitely worth a look. Just one word of warning: the performers do tend to involve the audience a bit, so if you don't like to be touched, talked to, or possibly sat upon during a show, avoid the front row.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

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

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