Opera House, Wellington

24/02/2012 - 27/02/2012

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Production Details


“Quirky and larky, magical and wild.” The Times (UK)

Kneehigh Theatre Company is renowned for exhilarating and surprising retellings of classic stories. The Wild Bride is no exception.

Based on a Brothers Grimm fairytale and narrated by Satan himself (who also turns his hand to playing the guitar, banjo, drums and double bass), The Wild Bride is a rollercoaster of theatre, dance and humour, set to live blues and bluegrass. Dark and magical, it has attracted rave reviews in theUK, with The Guardian’s Lynn Gardner calling it “the most defiant display of survivor-hood since Gloria Gaynor”.

The Wild Bride is the story of what happens when a man accidentally sells his daughter to the Devil. Betrayed by her witless father and rejecting the Devil, she meets her prince. Fortune changes again as the war starts, and our heroine is left alone in the wilderness to embark on an enchanted and epic voyage of discovery, healing and hope.

Over the past 30 years, Kneehigh has gained an international reputation for innovative storytelling. Their 2008 adaptation of Brief Encounter was a Broadway hit and nominated for a Tony Award. The New York Times called their dark retelling of The Red Shoes (2010) “another ringing testament to the theatrical inventiveness and exploratory intelligence of Kneehigh”.  The company has performed everywhere from a local village hall toLondon’s National Theatre. Proudly based inCornwall, Kneehigh’s own venue, The Asylum, is an enormous travelling theatre tent.

Set in an elemental world of petals, fire and clay, The Wild Bride is a rare and magical tale from a rare and magical company. It is ideal for adults and brave children alike.

The Wild Bride is at the Opera House
from 24 to 27 February
Tickets $18 – $78 available from Ticketek.


A journey not to be missed

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 26th Feb 2012

It really isn’t a good idea to make a bargain with the Devil who’ll upset the apple cart given half a chance as you’ll find out if you see the wondrous The Wild Bride which got the Opera House audience cheering and applauding at the curtain call last night.

This little known Grimm Brothers’ story about a dirt poor farmer who is tempted by the Devil into selling his backyard (and unknowingly his daughter) for some good clothes has been transferred from darkest Hungaryto the USAduring the Depression. The music ranges from bluegrass to Dem Bones (a dark, captivating number) to Gypsy violin.

However, one has to allow for theatrical licence as the heroic prince, who falls in love with the daughter spurned by the Devil because she is too pure, is not Amercian but a comic twit (he comes right) who regularly counts the pears on his pear tree every morning and evening.

It could have been a mess but it is all held together by the drive to tell a story with a simple moral (endurance, hope and love) with inventiveness that uses just about every visual, mimetic, aural and lighting trick available.

There are moments of beauty as when the pear tree feeds the starving bride in the wilderness, and there are moments of tense comedy and drama as the Devil intercepts letters to and from the Queen and Prince, and there are moments of cruelty and violence (think Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus) and there are thunderclaps and lightening that give the audience a jolt.

The five superb actors and their supporting musician all play a variety of instruments, sing magnificently, dance and fight athletically, operate three puppets, and move from pantomime (the Devil and the Prince) to lyricism and simplicity (the three actors who play the wild bride) with such assurance that we are taken on a truly remarkable theatrical journey. 


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A high bar is set

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 25th Feb 2012

Kneehigh Production’s Grimm-inspired tale, The Wild Bride, opened Wellington’s International Arts Festival last night with an all-singing, all-dancing brouhaha of theatrical devilry. 

The story, based on the Brothers Grimm tale ‘The Girl Without Hands’, depicts a 1930s Dust Bowl miller who accidentally sells his daughter to the Devil in exchange for a glorified new set of clothes.

The farmer offers all that lies behind the mill to the cartoonish, pinstripe suit-clad salesman, thinking it amounts to just his apple tree. The Devil-narrator declares gleefully that one’s daughter is a fair price to pay for all the riches one can dream of, but he cannot take her yet, as she is too clean. He forces the farmer to sully his daughter in mud, so the stench of purity is lessened.

The pantomime-ish (inexplicably Irish) father character laments, but obliges out of fear. The live blue-grass backing track (played by one musician and the multi-tasking dancing, musician players) adds comedy and colour to the dark scene to follow.

Since the girl is still too clean for the Devil – she has shed tears on her hands and has thus cleaned them – he goads the farmer into chopping off his daughter’s hands in a beautifully-choreographed transitionary scene from girlhood to womanhood. The girl repels the Devil still and abandons her weak father for the sanctity of the wily woods. (This spark of independent revolt is in contrast to the piousness of the girl in the original fairytale).

In a Tim Burtonesque sequence, the girl becomes ‘The Wild Bride’ (‘The Corpse Bride’?) in the forest, before being taken in by an equally eccentric pear-growing Scottish Prince and being given a pair of metal hands. The wayward yet endearing daughter has more than her mute condition and wild aesthetic in common with Edward Scissor-Hands here, and the Prince is immediately besotted. The Devil character lurks like Beetlejuice in the background of their world-of-the-living; haunting all the while, and threatening to disrupt their harmless happiness at any moment. 

Devised by director Emma Rice, the script is a reworking of an earlier, self-professedly ‘failed rendition’ of the production inEurope. Rice lead the unusually talented and multi-tasking cast through the Production Company’s bizarre rehearsal method: the cast and crew gather in a handful of open-air stone barns in the English countryside, without mobile reception, and collect wood to cook food and stay warm to the backing track of sheep.

This outdoors rehearsal setting aims to infuse the performance with a pastoral feel, an earthiness and physicality, which comes through wonderfully in the leaf-strewn production. The physical performances are spine chilling; particularly the middle ‘wild girl’ character (there are three different performers playing this character at various stages of her life) played by professional violinist, physical performer and actress extraordinaire Patrycja Kujawska. Her transition to wild being is committed, convincing and almost doomed, until the Scottish Prince (played with perfectly measured joviality by Stuart Goodwin) takes her in.

The choreography of the piece is tight: this is a high budget, highly-rehearsed, highly-entertaining production that offers not only world-class vocal performances – by the Devil character (played by Stuart McLoughlin, who also takes his hand to the double bass, guitar, banjo and drums) and Audrey Brisson, as the young girl – but physical prowess and deeply-felt performances.

McLoughlin could have played the Devil a little darker even, and his oversized suit is a strange costume choice, as it takes away from his authority. Another small note would be that his make up should be re-done at the interval, back to the gaunt, sunken-eyed terror of the opening scenes. His muddied face does not catch the light as it should, and his microphone could be louder, to give him a little more influence, if not just to amplify his mind-blowing voice.

This Todorovian story plays out in a wonderfully non-conclusive, non-didactic Grimm fairytale way, and the Kneehigh crew really lift their knees in Wellington’s Opera House, setting a very high bar indeed for the International Arts Festival.

A must-see. 


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