Life, etc

No Rose without a thorn… right?

By Lesley Stones 20 August 2012

Singer and scriptwriter Dianne Simpson has created a show that is original, quirky and entertaining to watch, if sometimes too didactic for a musical comedy. Rose Red tells the story of Snow White from the wicked stepmother’s point of view – with a soundtrack featuring Tori Amos, Annie Lennox and Lady Gaga. By LESLEY STONES.

How predictable life would be if everyone were just sweetness and light. If there were no darkness to give the days more vibrancy, no suffering to make the joys more joyful.

That’s why it wasn’t really a bad thing that Snow White had a wicked stepmother, Dianne Simpson tells us in Rose Red, a play that recounts the fairy tale from the older woman’s perspective.

Simpson wrote and stars in this one-woman show as the evil queen, and manages to look suitably fierce with her scraped back hair, dark eyes and petulant lips.

Rose Red is a quirky idea, part comedy, part musical, and almost part psychological analysis. It’s set on a feature-rich stage decked out like the house of the seven dwarves. There are tiny chairs strewn across the floor, leaves blown in through the open doors. The intriguing set is designed by Pieter Bosch Botha, who also directed the show and designed the highly effective lighting. Its one weakness is that pianist Dawid Boverhoff is hidden away a little too far to the back. 

As a child, the evil queen was a well-behaved little thing who always did her daddy’s bidding, Simpson tells us, acting the part of a submissive child. She buried her inner feelings and stifled her own personality as she moulded herself to please others.

When her father died she blossomed, and blossomed even more when the king noticed his pretty serving girl and took her for his wife. The problem was Snow White, she says, his young daughter whose beautiful mother had died and who the stepmother could never hope to match up to.

The psychoanalysis continues as the queen tells us how Snow White was also turning herself into the imagined picture of the perfect woman, who adores cooking and cleaning and waits for her prince to come to her, rather than having the gumption to go out and look for him.

Simpson is magnificent, giving a flawless performance as the queen, as a child and as Snow White as she reworks the fairly tale. Her singing voice is sometimes a little grainy, highlighted because she’s chosen songs from the greats like Annie Lennox, Tori Amos and Coldplay. She hasn’t picked an easy selection of music to back up the story, and Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’ looked particularly difficult to bring off well with just a piano for accompaniment, but other members of the audience thought that it was a highlight.

In the script notes Simpson says she doesn’t believe anyone is born evil, and their actions are shaped by society, circumstances, insecurities, abuse and religion. We must break the cycles, she urges, and also stop trying to please others instead of embracing our own truths.

Those beliefs shape the script, which does at times feel a little like a psychology lecture rather than a musical comedy. It works to a large degree, however, and it’s an entertaining and dramatic evening with more substance than the average fairly tale. DM

* Rose Red runs at the Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until September 1.


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