International Children’s Festival serves up Grimm fare with the fun

In a time where every single thing that touches our children’s lives is sanitized and bubble-wrapped for their protection, it’s refreshing to find a piece of entertainment that doesn’t sugarcoat the story.

Such rare wonders can be found the International Children’s Festival, simply the best entertainment bet for your dollar you’ll get all year. It’s at St. Albert Place and its environs through Saturday, June 4. Weather permitting, you can even have a swell time without paying a cent – street performers, craft tents, face-painting, balloon animals, jumpy things, free slurpees. You name it, you’ll line up for it.

One of several worthy inside shows you’d pay through the nose to see anywhere else is Rumpelstiltskin, by German puppeteer Matthias Kutcha. His witty if slightly slow-moving (by modern, quick-fix, short attention span standards) adaptation comes straight from the famous 19th Century German storytellers the Grimm Brothers, who lived up to their name with grisly tales to captivate the youngsters and pound some lessons into the little Kinder. Certain lessons shine through the years: Don’t break into a house occupied by bears and fall asleep in their bed or you might get eaten. Don’t trust the Big Bad Wolf or you might get eaten. Don’t eat candy from a house made of candy without asking or you might get cooked into a stew. In short: there is real evil in the world, so BE CAREFUL! It’s just simple common sense.

Rumplestiltskin is a particularly grim tale: a dopey dad claims his daughter can spin gold out of straw, a greedy king threatens to cut her head off if she doesn’t do it and a creepy little man aims to take the daughter’s first-born child, for what horrible purposes we shudder to imagine, and when he doesn’t get what he wants gets so mad that he rips himself in half, spilling his guts all over the place. For sheer drama, it sure beats Dora the Explorer.

Kutcha starts by telling the kids that Rumpelstiltskin was his favourite book when he was a little boy, but that he found certain parts of it so frightening he ripped the pages out until all he had left were the front and back covers. He talks about how everyone makes mistakes, how puppets “aren’t allowed” to cross the fourth wall (marked by tape) so the little kids shouldn’t feel frightened by the grotesque characters that seemed to be made out of pillow cases and potato sacks.

This is an interactive show, as many at this festival are. Rumpelstiltskin requires volunteers to be the moon, the sun and various royal secret agents. The puppets sometimes cross the fourth wall anyway, prompting giggling howls of protest from the audience. Kutcha has thrown in a good deal of physical comedy into the show, making his king especially obnoxious and hateful.

There’s another message in here somewhere.

Click here for tickets and more information.