GOBLIN MARKET by Christina Rossetti, adapted and performed by Maev Beaty and Erin Shields, directed by Allison Cummings. Presented by groundwater and Belltower in association with Equity Showcase at Showcase (651 Dufferin). Opens tonight (Thursday, May 10) and runs to May 27, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $15, stu/srs $12, Sunday pwyc. 416-533-6100. Rating: NNNNN
You'll never eat a juicy peach the same way again after seeing Goblin Market.
Based on the 1859 poem by poet Christina Rossetti, the multidisciplinary production tells the story of two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, tempted by luscious fruits offered by seductive goblins. Laura succumbs to their blandishments and eats, with fearful results. In true nursery-story fashion, Lizzie journeys back to Goblin Market in an attempt to save her sib.
"I'd come upon this poem by Rossetti, a member of the Victorian Pre-Raphaelite arts group, and was struck by its fairy-tale darkness," says groundwater productions' Erin Shields, whose fine solo Fringe show The Unfortunate Misadventures Of Masha Galinski was also based on unsettling stories for youngsters.
"The poem draws you into the tale with its grim" - or should that be Grimm? - "and deadly warning, which has a definite sexual subtext."
Shields suggested creating a show based on the Rossetti work to Maev Beaty of Belltower Theatre, a fellow collaborator on the upcoming Housebound project. Last year the two got funding from Equity Showcase's developmental Artist's Showcase.
Because the two women wanted to explore the poem using different disciplines, they approached choreographer Allison Cummings to help them with the workshop; she's also directing the current version.
"In that workshop we took the poem apart thematically in terms of nature, sexuality and Christianity," recalls Beaty, a vibrant performer who's acting in this summer's Dream In High Park. "But we also explored it using different artistic streams - text, music and dance - with each section led by an artist with a specific background.
"It brought us together in a real collaborative fashion, connecting us strongly since we'd all been involved in creating from scratch."
Shields also wanted to use the poem as a springboard for contemporary writing, and the current version of Goblin Market incorporates new interpretations of the 19th-century material.
The images of luscious fruit are not only verbal but also physical, and the audience enters into the world of Goblin Market and its fruit on all sorts of sensual levels.
"We're using the venue in every possible way" says Beaty. "Viewers sit on the set and all over the room, so they're integrated into the space and the action. Meghan McKnight's visual design is central to the production; we encourage the audience to interact with the art."
Add Kathy Zaborsky's music
, a soundscape that also draws you into Lizzie and Laura's world, and the show promises to be a complete theatrical experience. But it'll be one that asks audiences to think as well as look, smell and listen.
"Goblin Market is full of sexuality," notes Shields. "Laura's tasting the goblins' fruit is about the willing loss of virginity, and when Lizzie goes on the same journey it's more like an attempted rape; there's an aggression in what happens at the market, and the sensuality switches to an ugly place.
"And then there's the question of who the goblins are," continues Beaty. "They don't stand for all men, but, rather, those who form a certain kind of relationship that's not healthy, one where there's an imbalance of power in favour of the man."
The two performers stress that this isn't a staunchly feminist piece about sisterhood and the evil of men.
"It's more complicated than that," says Beaty, who plays Lizzie to Shields's Laura, "though there is an element of protecting other women and educating yourself and others about sexuality, both the positive and negative repercussions of sexual awakening."
There's also a lesbian aspect: when Lizzie returns to her sister covered with the juices of the goblins' fruit, Laura licks them off.
"At the start of the poem, there's a pastoral, innocent feel to this isolated world of the two sisters, but when Laura crosses over into fruitland, it moves to a dark place," suggests Beaty. "But which is more real? I don't think the poem makes a choice."
"For me," offers Shields, "it's not a move from light to dark, but from a simple relationship to a more complex one. And the moral at the end doesn't really reflect how complicated the sisters' relationship has become.
"The story is about going through important life experiences and having someone help you be okay with them. Isolation is the real killer."