The Golden Key: drama review

Michaelmas term 2015 saw an incredibly rich array of theatre from students ranging across all year groups, however the term began with the extremely sophisticated and enjoyable SSTC Germany Tour production of The Golden Key.

The thought-provoking production was written and directed by Jim Grant & Mark Beverley and performed in the Sackville Theatre in October 2015. The cast featured students from Years 10 to Upper Sixth and four students from the Goethe and Koeppler Gymnasiums in Ibbenbüren, Germany, who were integrated flawlessly into the production.

The Golden Key was the 15th biennial Drama Tour production to travel to Ibbenbüren and the Michaelmas half term marked the 30th anniversary of this incredible opportunity. The production was performed in several different locations in and around Ibbenbüren, the cast and crew skilfully adapting to the varying stage and auditorium sizes which, although challenging, was an extremely valuable educational experience for all involved.

The first act followed the story of the orphan Peter, whose character was perfectly captured by Finn Tyndall and Ollie Lewis, who both broke the audience’s hearts with their moving performances. When Peter’s parents died in a plane crash he was sent to live with his charismatic uncle, Art Babbitt, in Los Angeles. Art Babbitt, portrayed excellently by Sasha Dulerayn, was the head animator of Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Alongside his hard work, gruelling hours and lead role in the Great Disney Studio Strike, Art has to deal with a failing relationship with his wife Marge: the ambitious Snow White movement model, whose desperate desire for fame and adventure was brilliantly characterised by Phoebe Osler.

As the inspiration for the play came from the traditional fairy tales by the brothers Grimm, a number of these stories were integrated into the plot in the form of dreams. When Peter arrives at Art’s house and cannot sleep he asks his uncle to read him his favourite story, The Juniper Tree, one of Grimm’s fairy tales which features the typical gore and guts of a Grimm’s tale, but not of Disney’s adaptions. As Peter drifted into a fretful sleep, the audience was shocked by the sudden emergence of a figure (Molly Marr-Johnson) who introduced the first dream and fairy tale – The Juniper Tree. Featuring an extremely wicked stepmother (brilliantly characterised by Thea Mead), a huge singing bird who was excellently brought to life by Mrs Kiggell’s songwriting, and professional-looking puppeteering from members of the cast and a child ‘as white as snow and as red as blood’. This image tied in flawlessly with the events occurring in Hollywood surrounding the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As Art and Walt Disney (portrayed extremely well by Oscar Gilbert) feuded over trade unions and the poor pay of Disney’s animators, excellent narration from the chorus carried the whole story through and helped build the tension as Babbitt lead the animators on a labour strike.

The second act was a fictional story based in the midst of the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. The audience followed the story of Amal Sayegh whose gentle but resolute attitude was perfectly captured by a standout performance from Aarti Jalan, as she tried to reunite her war-torn family following the death of her mother. When Amal’s rebellious brother Adam (excellently played by Alex Parton) joined the PFLP and left home, her world was turned upside down. During their usual journey home, Amal and her father Joseph’s bus was attacked by Christian extremists, who force Joseph off the bus and Amal believes he has been shot. As Amal descends into despair, her mother’s spirit (hauntingly portrayed by Hethvi Gada) appears to her and tells her that in order to survive she must become completely mute. This was inspired by a true story of a Yazidi captured by ISIS in northern Iraq last year. By staying mute Amal escapes torture, rape and manages to reunite herself with her father who had in fact also escaped from the rebels. By telling her story to two very friendly German journalists (Cosima Weiss’s bilingual talents particularly shining through), Amal is able to reunite with her father. This touching reunion was heart-breaking and the talents of Aarti and Roshan Ruprai should be highly praised.

As there are a number of Grimm’s fairy tales that feature princesses who are forced into silence, when Amal starts to dream, the story of The Six Swans parallels Amal’s silence. The combination of stylised physical movement and naturalistic acting created an engaging piece of theatre that complimented the rest of the play. The fairy tale followed the story of a princess whose six brothers have been turned into swans by their stepmother. The interesting blend of costume and movement meant that the swans were excellently characterised and therefore fascinating to watch. In order to free her brothers from the curse, the princess must make six shirts out of nettles and cannot make a sound for seven years or the spell will never be broken. The princess’s sacrifice for her brothers was not only portrayed excellently by Meg Morvan, but was a very interesting parallel to Amal’s sacrifice in order to save herself and ultimately her family.

The play ended with a heartwarming twist of events in which Peter (now much older) and Amal meet in Canada (where they have both migrated to) and feature in one last fairy-tale together, which featured the incredible bilingual talents of Tina Hill, whose characterisation of an evil witch sent chills down the audiences spines.

The Golden Key was an incredible production and all members of the cast, crew and directing team should be extremely proud of their hard work and dedication which definitely paid off!

Kate Arkwright

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