(Alfred Hickling’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/4.)

It is supposedly the case that you are never more than 10 feet away from a rat. In Carol Ann Duffy's
compendium of verminous fables, you are certainly never far from a fiendish plot twist, a thrilling metaphor or a dazzling feat of theatrical invention.

Duffy and adaptor-director Melly Still established the Grimm Tales franchise almost 20 years ago, though their latest collaboration is not so much Grimm as downright macabre. Several of the eight
tales deal with the loss of a parent; there are abductions, beatings, even a flirtation with incest. But Duffy and Still's determination to confront the dark side of the imagination makes the morality of the tales all the more illuminating. In the familiar yarn of the Pied Piper, for example, the pompous mayor of Hamelin becomes a platitude-spouting politician who consults his moral compass and blathers on about his mandate, before commissioning a pest controller who clearly has not been thoroughly checked by the Criminal Records Bureau. Michael Mears's Piper is a tall, sinister character in black frock-coat and shades, who looks and sounds like a 1970s prog-rocker; he has come to steal children and play them symphonic concept albums in perpetuity.


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