A Grown Up Fairy Tale

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Alexander Grandma — ? Why is it that when everything is good and happy it can’t just stay that way? Why does something bad always have to happen? Why does it always have to change?

Helena Do you want the grown up answer? Or do you want me to treat you as a child?

In many ways Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish classic, Fanny & Alexander, feels like a grown up fairy tale. Even its title reminds me of Hansel and Gretel, and the world of the story is crammed with larger-than-life characters, including a wicked step-father and more than one ghost, as well as supernatural powers, torture, a sleeping potion, sex, marriage, births, deaths all revolving around two young children in peril (who even get locked in a tower of sorts). Some of it reminds me of (fellow Scandinavian) Roald Dahl, and I even thought about it whilst watching the brilliant animated feature Coco just the other day (a radiant tale of Family and Death with a young boy at its centre).

I really appreciate the concept of a Grown Up Fairy Tale. We’ve seen several recent examples here at The Old Vic — Groundhog Day was a prime one, as was A Christmas Carol and The Divide and later this season A Monster Calls is another. The ‘Fairy Tale’ aspect allows for an unlimited take on Life’s assault course of zig-zagging fortunes, where the natural and the supernatural, the literal and the metaphorical, coexist. And the ‘Grown Up’ aspect means that we’re not being lied to — the kaleidoscopic chaos of Life isn’t being neatly packaged up for us. Rather, we are plunged into a messy and complicated emotional maelstrom (I’m visualizing the Millennium Falcon hurtling through an asteroid field) but encouraged to see Life as an ultimately survivable adventure.

Matthew Warchus

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