It’s a behanding in Biloxi! In Kneehigh’s adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale “The Girl With No Hands,” set in the Depression-era American South, a father accidentally trades his daughter to the devil, who insists he chop off her hands because they’re too clean, and then intervenes to ruin her life for many years to follow. Ultimately it’s a girl power story, in which a woman finds the strength to fight back against the man who abuses her, but this is a dark show (at St. Ann’s Warehouse until St. Patrick’s Day), its happily-ever-after hard-won: it’s filthy, it’s muddy; there’s a scene in which a War Horse-ish deer puppet has its eyes torn out and then its tongue, each accompanied by a howl and a gore-evoking red ribbon. But it’s also bawdy, boisterous and buffoonish—delightful!—full of folksy blues, singing and dancing, and lovable actors speaking straight to the audience. It’s a very physical production with a Peter and the Starcatcher-style inventiveness: a woman does a handstand and gets her backside slapped like a bass; an actress spins around her father’s shoulders, getting as tossed about like an acrobat; simulated sex ends with a New Year’s Eve popper.
Andrew Durand plays a Sportin’ Life-style Devil, jazzy, serpentine and three-piece-suited like Sammy Davis, Jr. (or perhaps the closest comparison is the jazz demon from “Once More with Feeling”?), intensely charismatic, winning over the audience as well as the characters. Stuart Goodwin plays the role of the father and the prince who weds the handless maiden, bringing to both roles a clownish charm. The title character is played by three different women: Audrey Brisson, who also sings and plays accordion; Patrycja Kujawska, who also plays a mean violin; and Etta Murfitt, who dances. The five give the show their all (there’s also a band), providing deceptively light, actually deeply thought-over and worked-through performances intricately entwined with each other’s. With such a cast, director Emma Rice (best known for Brief Encounter) has created a masterpiece of storytelling and theatricality. Don’t miss it!
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