You know how at Easter time they sell those giant chocolate bunnies, promising mammoth amounts of sweets? And yet, when you bite in, your teeth break through the chocolate layer and into air, because as tasty and pretty as it is on the outside, the inside of the bunny is empty? That's a perfect analogy for new musical play Goblin Market, presented by Stark Raving Theatre.
Based on an 1862 poem by Victorian writer Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market tells the story of two sisters, Laura (Debbie Hunter) and Lizzie (Deirdre Atkinson). As adults, they meet in their childhood nursery and begin a memory game, naming (and miming) an ever-growing list of fruits. After this too-long sequence and a musical number or two, the girls strip off their black Victorian outergarments and frolic in their lacy white corsets and bloomers. The story they tell, through poetry and song, is one in which they often go down to play near a creek. Further down is a Goblin Market, where the goblin men sell succulent fruits and other tempting wares.
Despite the lessons they've been taught--stay away from the goblin men--Laura is tempted to go closer, and eventually to eat of their fruit. The experience leaves her haunted and withdrawn, growing older as the world passes her by. Lizzie knows that to save her sister, she will have to dally with the goblins, but she must be careful not to lose herself to the spell of their luscious fruits as well. But once presented with the goods of the goblins, will she be tempted beyond her ability to control her passions?
If all of this sounds like a metaphor for repressed sexuality, you're right. The forbidden fruits and their ambrosial juices represented by a succession of scarves which drape, caress, and bind the young women are the sexuality they so desire, while the goblin men represent... well, MEN, duh. But all of this subtext and what little story exists around it are so drawn out and metaphorical that I kept asking my friend, "Are you getting this?"
The production itself is fabulous. Hunter and Atkinson both have clear, loud, resonant singing voices that at times wanted to lull me to sleep. They also both look great in bosomy Victorian underwear (if that's your thing) and sharing a forbidden kiss. The staging and direction is strong, with an excellent use of the props and scarves, and the set is a semi-Dali-esque design which is one of Stark Raving's best. But as a story, Goblin Market fails for me. Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon's adaptation offers little filling to Stark Raving's sumptuous outer shell. Goblin Market is the chocolate Easter Bunny; by all means, go and enjoy the tasty trappings, but be prepared that its hollow core might leave you wanting more.