A Grimm and tonic

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Grimm Tales, Dukes Theatre Company, Williamson Park THEY'VE got the magic back.

After a few years of pleasantly entertaining but lacklustre plays in the park, The Dukes has finally rediscovered the X-factor; that special blend of brilliant writing, set design, acting, music, lighting and directing which make The Dukes' park plays a cut above the rest.

And it wasn't just me who thought so. Listening in to the conversations of other audience members I heard the same thing again and again: "It's just like it used to be. Magical."

In many ways it would be hard to go wrong with writer Carol Ann Duffy's brilliant adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tales. Her writing is funny, incisive and unmistakably 21st Century.

However, poor acting could have made it crash and burn. Instead, the quick-witted cast breathed life into the characters during the opening night on Friday. They were utterly believable and the audience was with them all the way.

From the opening scene in a woodland glade to the last scene in the dell, the park itself was used to great effect. All of the scenes took place in woodland areas. These areas felt intimate and slightly sinister. Perfect for the Grimm Brothers' stories of joy, death, cruelty, mutilation, human frailty, love and even infanticide.

The wise-cracks, slapstick, caricatures, puns and witty gags came thick and fast, many of them delivered in a thick Lancashire brogue. By the end of the night my face was aching from laughing at the cast's comedy antics.

Amy Worth, playing a randy donkey with the most enormous 'appendages' I have ever seen, provided one of the most side-splitting comedy moments. Likewise, Lisa Howard was hilarious when she played a prima donna of a goat.

Ashputtel (Cinderella) the first of the tales, set the scene wonderfully. Young designer, Emily Couper, had done a fantastic job of creating the costumes and sets which had a quirky, other-worldly feel. Her imagination had clearly been allowed to run wild, resulting in the most magical clothes designs and props.

The music, directed by Keith Morris, also played a key role in realising the fantastical vision of the Brothers Grimm. At times it created a vague feeling of dread, at others it was enchanting, beautiful.

Subtle lighting in the tree canopy also added to the atmosphere of enchantment - a tour de force for lighting director Brent Lees.

One of the funniest stories - The Golden Goose - had people roaring with laughter, clapping and cheering. It was a masterpiece of comedy timing. Actors Lisa Howard, Clive Duncan, Nick Chee Ping Kellington and Stuart Goldsmith excelled themselves. I particularly liked the way in which the figure of the Grim Reaper moved around the set in Hansel and Gretel, signifying the ever-present threat of death.

There were many other nice touches. The pub sign which read: "The Happy Mount" (a cheeky reference to a well-known Morecambe park?) and the comedy sound effects such as when a seemingly enormous tree was felled, were brilliant.

A personal favourites was the tale of The Mouse, The Bird and The Sausage. It was only short and done with puppets, but what a laugh.

Other tales were more moving and romantic such as The Lady and the Lion featuring the masterful acting talents of Declan Wilson and Sally Evans.

The tales were far removed from the Disneyfied fairytales many of us are used to hearing, but they were all the more real and entertaining for it.

A triumph for director Ian Hastings.