“Glimpses of Laura Witz’s peculiar genius for distant intimacy shoot from the confusion of Seven Dwarves, and are as welcome as will be the snowdrops when winter’s worst is done.”
When the director is also the writer, and is also on stage in a main role, it would be reasonable to suppose that a production will pivot towards a particular personality. In the topsy-turvy creative world of Laura Witz however, more is less. Too little in fact.
I number myself among Charlotte Productions (& Witz in particular)’s biggest fans. Glimpses of her peculiar genius for distant intimacy shoot from the confusion of Seven Dwarves, and are as welcome as the snowdrops will be when winter’s worst is done. Had Witz not been so much below decks, on stage and in the engine room, she might have been able to steer a clearer course.*
We enter to find the titular small people prepping a theatrical production of the fairy tale. (I think, like I say, one definite casualty of the confusion was the narrative arc.) Doc, Sleazy, Happy, Bashful, Grumpy, Jumpy and Dopey are waiting on confirmation that they are to perform before the Queen and her beautiful daughter.
Samuel Pashby is Prince Edward, the Princess’ nice but dim fiancé. He’s on hand to deliver, or rescind, the command for performance, depending on the royal whim of his future mother-in-law. Thus, the stage is set for a discourse on Disney-esque notions of female perfection versus the experience of most women (I think).
As the only guy on stage, Pashby is more Chris Noth than Ron Livingston, or heaven forbid Mikhail Baryshnikov. Yet his pinpoint maneuvering fails to find a plug. In this he is not alone, the bonny bubbliness of Erin Elkin (as Jumpy) is never given an opportunity to contrast fully with the brooding bristles of Blanca Siljedahl (as Grumpy). Trapped on stage, Sarah Calmus has to be constantly Happy, Daphne-fying her onstage presence into a towering laurel tree in whose shadow other performances sometimes struggle to show. In fact, Calmus dressed up as a tree at one point. (I’m not entirely sure why.)
However, Miriam Wright (as Sleazy) nails the part. What’s more, she possesses the reactive powers to suit her gear to the road ahead. It is hard to be off stage while on it, and not all the cast succeeded in this essential talent as well as Wright. As the only character with a unique storyline, Sara Shaarawi (as Doc) needed (and deserved) the space to establish the conflict between her romance and reality. Krisztina Szemerey (as Dopey) provided much needed physicality with a comic twist. She was also responsible for the Lotte Reiniger-style shadow puppetry.
Now, it’s fair to say I have a mixed history with puppets. I’ve been escorted from a super-tedious Vietnamese Water puppet show after trying to drown the dragon. I’ve been in a fist fight with Terry Eurovision. In the case of Seven Dwarves however, I’m going to take their side. Szemerey et al delivered a stylish, useful piece of staging which could have been extended to cover the spaces filled with jarring slides of perfect princelings from the Disney magic factory.
In the blocking, Witz was attempting to resolve the clutter and confusion of the stage, and she was not Bashful in taking an unmistakably directorial position. She stands out, but was not far enough back to take control. For her fans, boosters, and supporters, Seven Dwarves is a magic eye example of Laura Witz’s style – you need to be looking at it from a very particular position if it is to make any sense.
*Witz was a stand-in for Bridgette Richards, who was originally cast in the role of Bashful.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 12 November)