Fairy Tale Stepmothers do ‘ave em!

Stone Soup 2Once upon a time the Fairy Tale was born…

The popular Fairy Tale has existed for well over 200 years and typically demonstrate good’s victory over evil.  Good being traditionally described as young, brave, kind, clever and beautiful, evil being old, wicked, corrupt and all too often female.

Witches, Queens, Stepmothers – there are plenty of examples within the genre but is there any common ground between them?

The fairy tale villain is an outsider, standing apart from society.  The Witch is ostracised for her appearance or habits, The Evil Queen is removed by her power and wealth but what of the Wicked Stepmother?  The Stepmother is the antithesis of what we might think of as a stock Mother figure (caring, nurturing, supportive).  Whilst the Witch and Evil Queen often threaten an entire community, the Stepmother represents a challenge to the family unit, her presence creating tension between the children and their Father.

There are several examples of Stepmothers in fairy tales; Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White all have to deal with them.  In fact Stepfathers have far less nasty reputations.  This could be because many of the most famous fairy tale writers were men (Hans Christian Andersen, The Brothers Grimm to name but a few).

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In the Stepmother the fairy tale writer has a character with an axe to grind.  The Stepmother has won the heart of her husband and wields power over his children mercilessly (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel are forced out into the forest and Cinderella is used as a slave).  The Stepmother’s motives are broadly similar to that of the Witch or the Evil Queen; jealousy and the lust for power.  Her new child(ren) are more beautiful than she is and they are in the way.  In the family unit, the Stepmother is Queen and her throne must be ruthlessly consolidated.

Of course like all fairy tale villains it will not end well for the Wicked Stepmother.  Her death or banishment will not only be gruesome but in it there will be a valuable moral lesson about love and virtue.  These lessons are highlighted, not by the downfall of the villain, but by the child(ren)’s relationship with their Father.  Throughout the Fairy Tale the Father neglects his responsibility as protector; he is blind to his new wife’s behaviour sometimes going as far as to carry out her dastardly wishes.  In the end he realises who he truly loves and seeks forgiveness.

Perhaps the reason that the Wicked Stepmother endures as a villain can also be found at home.  It’s unlikely that in the 21st Century we will ever meet a Giant or a talking Wolf but each of us understands the role of the Mother.  A Witch may be more mysterious and a Queen may be more powerful but it doesn’t take a flight of fantasy for even the youngest child to recognise the threat a Wicked Stepmother poses.

Wicked WitchIn my Traditional Tales I enjoy playing the wicked characters (even the female ones).  Playing a Witch or a Wicked Stepmother brings life to the story and is the perfect excuse for a wig or a shawl!

It can be very scary for young audience members to come face to face with a truly terrible character in any context (Miss Trunchbull’s School Inspection or The Victorian School Room) so I work hard to assure my audiences that they are safe.  Exposing children to danger, be it a Witch, a Dragon or a Stepmother, in my view, comes with responsibility.  If I am going to present bad characters I must demonstrate their ridiculousness; my audience must see that villains always get their comeuppance and that good will triumph in the end so that we can all live happily ever after.