One of the most unique experiences I had at the Vancouver Fringe this year was certainly Brain Apple Theatre’s Herm and Gertie, a post-apocalyptic re-telling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
Herm and Gertie is different than most theatre experiences because it is staged at Granville Island’s Sculpture Grove at the Ron Basford Park. The action happens all around the audience members as the actors use the surrounding terrain. But it doesn’t end there. Audience members even walk in the main characters’ shoes as for a portion of the show, they are blindfolded and led in a line while hanging on to a rope. During that time, the story continues, experienced purely by ear. Being a public venue, it was a little difficult to keep into a story that is supposed to be taking place in a desolate, unpopulated future when the bustle of Granville Island is happening around you, but this is weighted more to the show’s opening which was still in daylight. As the show moves to a more secluded area and it got later in the night this became much less of an issue.
Because of the outdoor setting, and the evening timeslot, the creative team had to live up to their names and get creative with the lighting. As the sun set, techs for the show lit the proceedings using colored flashlights with each character getting a theme color. It was a very cool effect.
The cast (Jordan Vladimir Lysenko, CJ McGillivray, Marc Castellini, Kathrina Moehlman and Melanie Bennett) were all quite strong performance-wise. The most impressive aspect being some of the major physical aspects in the show: dancing (of sorts), fighting, climbing and in some cases being a duck.
I was surprised how well the classic tale fit into a science fiction world full of mutants. The signature darkness of The Brothers Grimm stayed well intact, even with some of the humor that was added. As the storyline plays out it does get increasingly weird and surreal. Some viewers will be right in their element, but undoubtedly some others will be put off. I was into it myself, but I did have a few neighbours in the crowd who were wearing some decidedly “WTF” faces. I would concede that the final act of the play was a slow and bit drawn out and right when things were at their strangest. It was a bit of a task to get through.
On the whole, Herm and Gertie is a very creative piece. It won’t be for everyone, but those looking for an alternative style of theatre, and have a taste for the weird, won’t want to miss it.
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