Eliane Morel brings her award winning show Disenchanted: A Cabaret of Twisted Fairy Tales to Adelaide Fringe next week. The show is just one of several shows with French themes showing at this year’s Fringe festival. We had a chat to her about the show, fairy tales and French salons and their salonnières.
You’re bringing your show Disenchanted : A Cabaret of Twisted Fairy tales to Adelaide Fringe for the first time. What can we expect of your Adelaide Fringe show?
Disenchanted is a cabaret set in a salon in 1699, hosted by a real-life French historical figure Marie-Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Baronesse d’Aulnoy, known as Madame d’Aulnoy. But there the historical accuracy ends – For in this salon, Madame d’Aulnoy’s guests are fairy-tale side-characters who feel compelled to tell their side of the story – the side that has been ignored up until this point.
I play all the characters (you have to come and see the show to see who they are), and my accompanist and musical director, Daryl Wallis, plays the part of renowned French composer and harpsichordist, Francois Couperin.
What inspired you to create this show?
Disenchanted began its life at a dinner party organised by my niece, who at the time was 9 years old. She invited us to attend dressed as fairy tale characters, and sing a song or tell a story as that character. In one magical afternoon, I wrote a song from the point of view of Olga, one of Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters. From there an idea germinated of creating a cabaret based on the stories of fairy tale side characters whose stories are overlooked and who feel they’ve been misrepresented.
After I’d written a few songs, I was looking for something to frame the cabaret and discovered the real-life ‘Godmother of Fairy Tales’ – Marie Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Baronesse d’Aulnoy – the hostess of a17th Century Parisian Salon who coined the term ‘fairy tales’ and was a pretty subversive character in her own right. So, that’s where Disenchanted is set – in Madame d’Aulnoy’s Salon.
Did fairy tales have an important place in your childhood?
Of course ! Like so many children, I was entranced with fairy tales as soon as my little eyes fell upon the pages of a fairy tale book. I’m now a member of the Australian Fairy Tale Society, and I think it’s fair to say that many, many of us who who loved fairy tales as children did so because it was our escape from the everyday world.
What was your favourite fairy tale as a child?
Bluebeard. It absolutely sent shivers down my spine, but it was such a great story – almost more of a thriller than a fairy tale! However, Charles Perrault’s moral at the end of the tale is quite chilling – don’t be curious, girls ! I’ve retold the story from the point of view of one of the dead wives – what’s their message to the living ?
Should fairy tales be rewritten for modern audiences? If so, how?
Of course. Fairy tales, unlike, say, bible stories, have always been retold to fit their era. In earlier versions of Sleeping Beauty, for example, the comatose princess is impregnated with twins by the prince, and wakes up on giving birth to them ! Can you even imagine ? In the version we know, so popularised by Disney, Prince Charming wakes the princess with a kiss. In my version, the Princess reminds the prince that she didn’t consent to any physical contact in her sleep…
In Disenchanted, we enter Mme d’Aulnoy’s 17th century salon. Who was she and what purpose did her salon serve?
A salon in the XVIIe siècle was a place where women and men could gather together to discuss new ideas – philosophy, literature, art, science. Mme d’Aulnoy was the hostess of such a salon. In Mme d’Aulnoy’s salon, and the salon of several other women of her era, they told each other subversive tales – mocking royalty and challenging societal norms (by, for example, featuring heroines who wore men’s clothing) where fairies (not God) were the beings who controlled the fate of mortals. They called these stories ‘contes de fees’ and Mme d’Aulnoy was the first person to coin the term.
How long have you been writing plays and how long have you been an actress?
I’ve been writing little plays, and acting in them, since I was a child. I went to after-school care and we used to invent plays and show them to our parents. I always loved writing humorous little dialogues between people. My history teacher once suggested that instead of writing an essay about monks, I should write a little play about it. I couldn’t believe that something so fun was allowed at school, but I’m sure it was much more fun for him to read, too !
I started taking writing for theatre more seriously at University, and won a prize for a play called ‘The Cabbage Patch Kid’, which was about a girl in a coma who is impregnated with an in-vitro embryo. Gosh, it sounds a lot like the early version of Sleeping Beauty !
At the same time, I always wanted to be an actor. Now I do get to do both!
When and how did you know that you wanted to work in theatre?
I first really got the taste for it when my school in Canberra staged a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I played Titania. Since then I have always just loved theatre. It’s a very special medium – ancient and timeless. I love the contract that audiences and performers enter into to create worlds together in our minds. It really is magic.
You are also currently working with the Australian Fairy Tale Society on a show about the 17th century French salonnières. Could you tell us a little about the Australian Fairy Tale Society and these salonnières?
The Australian Fairy Tale Society is an Australia-wide group of people who are interested in fairy tales. Anyone can join, we have regular meetings (online or in person) and we discuss fairy tales in great depth – much like a book club, but with one chosen every couple of months. It’s very intellectual and lively, and includes so many wonderful people. I was introduced to my extremely talented costumier, Livonne Larkins, by the Fairy Tale Society. A small group of us are working on a YouTube show about the Salonnières of Paris in the late 17th century who met to tell fairy tales to each other, and then went on to publish many of their tales. Their lives were full of scandal and intrigue – cross-dressing, affairs, espionage, murders, poisonings, abductions and imprisonment in convents are included amongst their life events. And amongst all this they found it necessary to tell stories in which they found comfort and could escape to a world that, although equally tumultuous, was ruled by fairies rather than tyrannical kings.
Just as fairy tales and fables often contained messages for their readers, is there a message you’re hoping to impart with Disenchanted?
The main message of Disenchanted is to question the stories we think of as immutable, and ask ‘Is this the whole story? Is there another side to the story ? How does the world change when I start to listen to people whose stories haven’t been told before ?’ #Me Too
You wrote Disenchanted: A Cabaret of Twisted Fairy Tales and you play all of the characters. What are the challenges of writing and performing in the same show?
Costume changes! Smoothing out the costume changes so there is no ‘dead-time’ for the audience. I have had new costumes designed by costumier Livonne Larkins, and I’ve been practising a fair bit to make the transitions smooth. Those costume changes are probably the most difficult thing about the piece!
Are you first and foremost a dramaturg or an actress?
I like to make theatre, and I think I enjoy being in control, so probably I lean more towards the dramaturg than the actress. Just right now, though, I’m acting in a piece by Caryl Churchill, ‘Hotel’, and I’m really loving being a servant to her text. The actor’s process of interrogating text and creating a whole back story for our characters to enrich our acting is very creative in itself – so actually there probably isn’t much difference!
You’re of Vietnamese origins and you speak French. How many languages do you speak?
I only speak a tiny bit of Vietnamese, although I do speak French fluently (more so when I’ve been in France a while!) I learned Italian at school and I think I can speak reasonably well, but haven’t had the chance to practise it much lately – except if I’m singing in Italian.
Are there Vietnamese fairy tales that aren’t known outside of Vietnam? Do you have a favourite?
Yes, there are many Vietnamese fairy tales. Probably my favourite is ‘Tam and Cam’, a Cinderella-like story with some extra, intriguing details.
Why should people come to see your show at Adelaide Fringe?
As far as cabaret goes, I think it’s got everything – great singing, accessible tunes, some singing along (if you dare !) surprising stories, laughter, fun, heartbreak and rousing revolutionary songs. We won ‘Best Show’ to sold out houses at the Newcastle and Dubbo Fringe Festivals in 2021, so both critics and audiences have been impressed.
Who is the show for?
Anyone over the age of 14, anyone with a passing interest in fairy tales, anyone who’s intrigued about Parisian salons in the 17th century, anyone who likes opera or musicals or singing, anyone who likes a good story. Women in particular love this show, but that said, many men have told me how much they enjoyed it too.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Just come along to see for yourselves! It’s enjoyable for everyone.
We thank Eliane for this interview and look forward to seeing Disenchanted: A cabaret of twisted fairy tales at Adelaide Fringe.
KEY INFO FOR DISENCHANTED AT ADELAIDE FRINGE
WHAT: Disenchanted: A cabaret of twisted fairy tales
Tue 1 Mar – Fri 4 Mar: 8:20pm
Tue 8 Mar – Thu 10 Mar: 7:30pm
Sat 12 Mar: 7pm
Sun 13 Mar: 4:30pm
Tue 15 Mar – Wed 16 Mar: 7:30pm
Thu 17 Mar: 6pm
WHERE: The Garage International @ Adelaide Town Hall, 128 King William St, ADELAIDE
HOW: Purchase your tickets via the Adelaide Fringe website: https://adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/disenchanted-a-cabaret-of-twisted-fairy-tales-af2022
Ticket prices for Disenchanted: A cabaret of twisted fairy tales are as follows (exclusive of transaction fee)
- Full Price: $30.00
- Concession: $27.00
- Child: $27.00
- Family: $108.00
- BankSA Cardholder: $22.50
- Double Your Applause: Admits 1: $60.00
What was your favourite fairy tale as a child?