Written by Jeff Moule
Directed by Jeff Moule, Terry Stevenson, Sheila Kay Sly and Jeremy Crane

A selection of traditional folk stories have been brought up to date for the 21st Century for performance by Belper Players.

Local writer Jeff Moule has brought verse, intrigue and comedy to five tales in his latest collaboration with the Players. He has previously directed them in his plays Caging the Wild Birds, Not Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Another Chalk Circle.

The result is Five Tales In Verse – And Sometimes Worse!

In Jeff’s plays, the French story of Bluebeard becomes a Gothic horror story. And the satire of The Emperor’s New Clothes is given a modern twist with two rapping weavers.

The other stories are The Fisherman And His Wife, Toby And The Wolf and The Man Who Would Cheat Death.

Jeff said: “All these stories have an enduring appeal for old and young alike and there is something for everyone to enjoy. But most importantly, they’re a lot of fun.”

NODA Review by Joyce Handbury

In his fourth collaboration with Belper Players local writer Jeff Moule has adapted five traditional folk stories in a completely innovative way by the use of verse, comedy, intrigue, horror and social and political satire. The first tale was Toby and the Wolf. The scene was set by the narrators putting a model of a wooden mill on a grass covered table with the addition of small figures (used to great effect during the story) whilst Sarah McMullen and Sue Macfarlane  exquisitely sang ‘Old Dog Toby’. The ‘big bad wolf’ appears in many folk tales and here the wolf becomes a very sexily attired, and conniving ‘she wolf’. The dog, Toby, is not perceived as ‘doing his job’ and so goes into the woods where he meets the seductive she wolf who ‘has a plot’. The narrators for the story, which was all related in rhyming couplets, were superbly played by Sarah Holme and Lou Jenkins who aided the story by the use of some very good props. The Miller was well played by Roger Whiting and Jane Wilton was excellent as his wife - loved the wig. Toby was delightfully played by Jeremy Crane and his Brummie accent was first-rate. Janet Allison was excellent as the scantily and sexily dressed she wolf. One would think that the poor dog didn’t stand a chance against her wheedling and provocatively tempting ways, but the wolf’s attempts were eventually thwarted and Toby returned to the Miller and his family.

The second tale was The Fisherman and His Wife, a German Fairy Tale by the Bothers Grimm, and again retold in rhyme. The original moral is retained but here Jeff cleverly raises the issue of our polluted oceans and to that end invited the audience to donate to Greenpeace, their charity for this production. The singers beautifully sang ‘Bold Fisherman’, this time without their guitars, to introduce the tale which tells of a wife who, on hearing that her fisherman husband has saved a speaking Fish Prince, demands that he continually returns to ask for more and more upgrades to her living standards and possessions and of course, when she finally demands that her husband asks for her to be the the ‘Son of God’, she ends up back where she started, in her hovel of a house! The narrator for this tale was effectively portrayed by Ben Waller and Morgan Bennett represented the Fish wonderfully, his gyrations when on the ‘end of the line’ were most imaginatively delivered. John Taylor was fine as the Fisherman and Tracey Wilkinson, as his wife, was suitably avaricious and nasty, but became so outlandishly smug when all her wishes and demands were being fulfilled, that you were truly glad when she finally got her comeuppance.

The third tale was Bluebeard. This French folktale, again delivered in rhyming couplets, was in the style of a Gothic horror. Bluebeard’s new wife soon becomes downtrodden and on one of his ‘away visits’ gives his wife the castle keys but tells her not to use the one that opens the door at the top of the spiral staircase. Her sister comes to stay to try to cheer her up but, of course, curiosity gets the better of her and when she reaches the room and opens the door she finds it blood stained and the bodies of, presumably, his former wives. Bluebeard returns to find that his wife has disobeyed him and threatens to kill her too. The sister sends for their brother .... Bluebeard sharpens his knife .... the tension is mounting .... will the brother get there on time .... yes he does, and saves the day by stabbing Bluebeard with his own knife. Nick Mothershaw was very menacing as Bluebeard, the brother and sisters were splendidly played by Ben Turner, Judy Richter and Brianna Undy. and Martin Drake and Victoria Fernandes were suitably respectful as the servants acting as the narrators. Keren Adler was superb as the Bride coping so well with the diverse emotions of the character. The song, ‘Fathom The Bowl‘ by Sarah and Sue was yet another fabulous rendition.

After the interval the fourth tale was The Man Who Would Cheat Death based on an Italian folktale by Italo Calvino. The quite moving song was ‘Dust the Dust’. The tale tells of a man who is at the bedside of his dying mother and wonders if there might be a way to cheat Death. He goes off in search of this ideal and on the way meets a Stranger (Janet Allison), a Lumberjack (John Taylor), a Landscaper (Sarah Holme) and a Ferryman (John Briscoe). It was quite an involved story but in the end he returns to his mother and sadly finds that no one cheats death, “ask not for whom the bell tolls - it tolls.....”. It was quite a moving piece and I must say that all of the players, particularly Terry Stevenson as the Man, were terrific.  

The fifth and last tale was the famous tale by Hans Christian Anderson, The Emperor’s New Clothes. A nice fanfare greeted the resplendently dressed Emperor and he was soon informed by his ministers, complete with bowler hats, of current affairs (very topical themes were used here). The Emperor was in need of a new outfit and two ‘rapping’ weavers convince him that their new fabric is just perfect for this and we all know how that ends! The narrators were well played by Alyson Koe and Mollie Middleton and superb support came from the Chancellor, Tracey Wilkinson and the ministers - Jane Wilton, Keren Adler, Roger Whiting and Martin Drake. Brianna Undy and Lou Jenkins were perfect as the Weavers, loved the ‘rapping’. Ben Turner was so dignified and majestic as the Emperor, but, the question on everyones lips (certainly on mine) was, would he or wouldn’t he appear before us ‘starkers’. Well, he disappeared behind a screen to be then escorted from behind it where he stood on a podium and, all but for a pair of flesh coloured silk ‘underpants’, he stood before us proudly taking the accolades of his subjects and of course, the audience. A great performance and what a brave man!

The exceptional singing by Sarah and Sue, the excellent acting by everyone, the complimentary lighting, sound and incidental music, the imaginative props and even the interactions with the audience, all contributed to make this a triumph of a show. Jeff Moule should be justly proud of his outstanding adaptations of these five tales. Congratulations to him, his fellow directors and to everyone involved.  

PS. I apologise for the length of this review but I do feel that some simple explanation was needed to try to relate the intricacies of the five tales. (No problem Joyce - a fine review of what sounds like a fascinating and innovative show. Alex Wood, Editor.)