MET 2015 with Playwright Michelle Read – Session 11 – Thursday 23rd April

Inspired by last week’s play and its use and re-imagining of a fairy tale (The Princess & The Pea), we started to explore other folk stories this week. We made a list of all the stories we could think of and talked about the theory that there were only a small number of stories in the world, which offer endless variations.

An example of this perhaps, is that Cinderella and The Tortoise & The Hare are arguably the same story – as they’re both about an “underdog” who wins out in the end. They’re both what is sometimes called a “rags to riches” story, where the good values of the person with nothing, or no expectations, are recognised and rewarded in the end. Lots of different cultures have a version of the “rags to riches” story, perhaps because people like to hope things can turn out like this in real life!

Out of our long list of stories the children chose Hansel & Gretel to explore in more detail. We then started to talk about what happens in the story and why. I explained that the ‘why’ is very important – particularly in a play, because characters need to have a good reason to take action. We went back through the story and remembered that Hansel and Gretel’s family are very poor and have very little to eat – which is one reason (motivation) their parents decide to abandon them. We discussed whether this a believable enough for parents to abandon their children, and we remembered then that their real mother has died and it is their new step-mother – who does not want to share food with the children – who persuades their father to abandon them or persuades him that they could survive on their own.

We had a really great discussion about how the story unfolded and the cause and effect it uses. It’s a kind of thriller like many folk tales, so the main characters Hansel and Gretel are quickly in great danger and then have to figure out how to save themselves (from being eaten by the witch in the gingerbread house). Being poor and abandoned causes Hansel and Gretel to be hungry and lost. The effect of this is that when they see a gingerbread house, they rush straight up and start eating it without any caution. The effect of this is that the witch catches them. This then causes them to be divided. Hansel into a cage to be fed and pampered, Gretel into the kitchen, to do all the witches chores. This causes the witch to be really pleased; she crows aloud to herself about her plan to eat Hansel, but Gretel overhears this and the effect is that she wants to convince Hansel he is in danger… and so on! The audience wonders if and how Hansel and Gretel will escape, adding to the suspense of the story.

After looking at Hansel & Gretel in such detail, the class were put into groups and I asked the children to take the same approach with Little Red Riding Hood and write down what happens in the story. Once the children had broken down how the story worked, I asked them to think about how they would change Red Riding Hood into a more contemporary story. There was a great buzz in the room as each group started to discuss how this might work.

 This Session: Exploring and discussing story narrative.

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