If you don’t want your chocolate-box childhood fairytales to be tarred with (literal) flesh and blood then don’t go and see Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs – a brand new opera by composer Vahan Salorian at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery.
If you don’t see it, however, you’re missing out. This production is a contemporary, gritty and exciting new work that dares to be gorily different.
Setting the scene perfectly at the appropriately industrial Copeland Gallery (accessible only by an actual back-alley) the performance space is straight out of an episode of Dexter. The walls and floor are adorned in white plastic sheeting, suggesting we are in a kill room. The audience are provided with protective coveralls as if we are all about to be led onto a crime scene to conduct a forensic investigation. It’s actually just to protect our clothes should we get splattered with any of the “bits” that get flung around during the performance.
The tales of the Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks have been merged here. The bears and the wolves have been nixed and we have a story that centres only around the innocent parties of the original stories. Yet in place of an agreeable blonde girl and three architecturally-ambitious pigs we have a rather rude, intrusive young woman and a family of swines who are dysfunctional at best: the mother is a paranoid hypochondriac, the son is a brat and the father is a murderer and a rapist.
So we’re not quite in Hans Christian Andersen territory here. This is more the realms of Tobe Hooper.
It’s that classic slasher scenario: an innocent girl stumbles across a weird family who live in a creepy shack in the woods. Yet Goldilocks isn’t particularly innocent in this adaptation. She’s relentless and entitled. She’s already (inexplicably) covered in blood when she rocks up at the Pigs’ house. By this point she is tired and hungry (having already resorted to eating worms from the forest floor). It would seem she’s out for flesh, too.
What follows is a disturbing sequence of events. In a refreshing role-reversal, the “Final Girl” is actually the one stalking someone’s home from the outside and eventually invading it. Mummy Pig is alone at the house after Baby runs off in a tantrum leaving Daddy to go out and find him before dark. Because she is dogged by paranoia, when Goldilocks starts rapping at the front door Mummy panics and hides with the nearest fire poker clutched in her trotter, refusing to let the persistent young woman in. Unfortunately for Mummy, Goldilocks is so desperate that she (rudely) smashes the window and tries to climb down the chimney.
Next is a sequence of short, sharp exchanges between the four characters, one after the other, preluded with moments of miscommunication. The Pigs do not speak the same language as Goldilocks, adding to the sense of threat. This is particularly delicious when Goldilocks encounters Daddy Pig. The dance between the two is cunning on his part, frightening on her’s and climaxes in one terrible act followed by another.
The entire opera is set against a score that is positively filmic. Get the Oscars over and done with and hand this opera over to Guillermo del Toro – it could be stunning on screen. And as conductor Paul Wingfield points out, the music is rather Hitchcockian with its shrill violins and ominous beats.
Fairytales tend to be seeped in some form of macabre origin. Research any one and you’ll learn something about it that will chill you. So, in essence, Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs is bringing the fable full circle. That being said, this opera is thoroughly modern and excitingly progressive.
Words by Andrew Bullock