Review: Roots at The Malthouse Theatre

By Natalie Hamman


Every country has its folk law. Every culture has its fairy tales. As The Grimm Brothers have taught us, most do not have the happy endings we have become accustomed to like in Cinderella or Snow White. Many of the old tales such as sleeping beauty are tragic and harrowing. Some old tales have morals that are meant to teach and guide us, others don’t seem to have a meaning at all.


Roots would focus on the latter. Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade, Roots is a collection of old folk tales and fairy tales inspired by the Aarne Index, and rewritten for the stage. Some of these tales include the “The Fat Cat” and “The Luckless Man” – both old tales which fall more on the side of bizarre and brutal than romantic or enlightening.”


Roots is a spectacle of the shocking and unusual. Andrade stating that she “rather liked the idea of not moralising with these stories and had to fight (her) own instincts to write the wrongs of these tales, to tame them. “This is evident in the performance as the short stories range from weird to silly, to downright bizarre. Most with no apparent meaning or moral.


Roots is performed entirely by two actors and two musicians. The two actors (Genevieve Dunne and Philippa Hambly) play a variety of roles with the use of the stage.


The performance mostly take place in the form of a narrated story which is projected onto a white wall allowing the actors to interact with the drawn scenery. Well placed cut-outs allow Dunne and Hambly to become one with the scenery and you’ll often find them turning into multiple characters in the same scene - the illusion reminiscent of shadow-puppetry. The animation designed by Paul Barritt is quirky and charming and, along with the live music (composed by Lillian Henley), Roots becomes an extraordinary feast for the senses.


Roots is accompanied by two incredible talented musicians; Francesa Simmons and David Insua-Cao.  Simmons and Insua-Cao will often be found centre stage alongside the actors as they accompany the tale with a variety of different instruments. From the violin to the whirly tube, Simmons and Insua-Cao create an incredible soundscape to transport you into the tale.

The costumes (designed by Sarah Munro) are all wonderfully whimsical and range from historical to abstract to match the folk tale.


In addition to the performers, the folk tales are narrated by a list of different people, all friends and family to the cast and crew.Andrade’s states that when originally reading them out loud “(her) own ‘trained’ voice stuck (her) as too insincere, too theatrical, and it sounded wrong.” The sincere and enduring nature of the narrators may be part of what makes Roots so engaging to watch.


Roots mixes relevant commentary with whimsy and just enough abstraction to keep you guessing.  Roots is an extraordinary and unique performance that you’ll not find anywhere else. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely qualifies as an event worth experiencing. 

Images Supplied


All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.

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