The Goblin Market: “She suck’d until her lips were sore.”

The Goblin Market, produce by Dust Palace, is bering presented by The Cultch.

In The Goblin Market‘s prettiest passage, Laura and Lizzie twine and untwine in a rotating hoop. “Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me./Never mind my bruises.”

Make no mistake: Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, which was published in 1862 and which inspired this circus performance, is about sex.

At twilight, sisters Laura and Lizzie are tempted by goblin men, who offer to sell them fruit. At first, Laura demurs: “We must not look at goblin men,/We must not buy their fruits:/Who knows upon what soil they fed/Their hungry thirsty roots?” But, when Laura lets herself go—“Like a vessel at the launch/When its last restraint is gone”—she is ravenous: “She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/She suck’d until her lips were sore.”

Some scholars would have us believe that Goblin Market is about the rise of advertising in Victorian England. Sure. Maybe that too. But it’s mostly about sex.

In The Goblin Market—unlike the title of the poem, the title of the performance includes an article—the story stays the same, but the producing company, New Zealand’s Dust Palace, sets its telling in the present and there’s only one goblin man.

Some of it works. Off the top, Laura and Lizzie teeter on an elevated plank while grainy footage of urban nighttime traffic races behind them. The sisters feel like teenagers on the brink of sexual awakening and, as they stumble and car horns blare, it seems that they are out for a potentially dangerous, potentially ecstatic night on the town.

All three performers—Rochelle Mangan (Laura), Eve Gordon (Lizzie), and Edward Clendon (the goblin man)—are skilled and awesomely fit. Clendon is so lean that he looks like a post-Crucifixion Christ and yet, as he performs a balletic solo on two lengths of cloth that hang from the gallery—they’re called silks—the strength that he has in his hands is dazzling. And his feet are so articulated they are prehensile.

Mangan and Gordon are equally impressive and thrill-inspiring. In the scariest bit in the evening, Gordon does a handstand on top of Clendon, who is perched on top of a stack of chairs.

Choreographically, there are moments of genuine eroticism and physical poetry. In a duet, Clendon hangs by his knees from a trapeze, his arms fully extended. His hands, which are cupping the back of Mangan’s head, are the only things keeping her from falling. And then he draws her all the way up to his mouth for a kiss. It was so hot I felt like shouting out my phone number.

In the prettiest passage, the sisters twine and untwine their bodies in a suspended, rotating hoop.

The evening doesn’t sustain its 85 minutes, however. Mostly, that’s because the narrative goes slack: the plot points are drawn out and predictable. It’s also because, although it’s alluring at first, the texture of the show doesn’t continue to surprise. The basic elements—loud, hip music, high-contrast lighting, and jumpy black-and-white images—are introduced early on and then basically repeat. And, although the circus skills vary—now he’s on silks, now she’s on a rope—there’s not enough sense of a build there, either.

Sometimes, when you’re hanging out with goblin men, quicker is better.

THE GOBLIN MARKET Created and directed by Eve Gordon and Mike Edwards. A Dust Palace production presented by The Cultch on Tuesday, October 3. Continues until October 14.

Get your tickets here.

 

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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