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October 13, 2016

The delightfully drawn world of Rumpelstiltskin

Chris Edser's idiosyncratic illustrations and animations form the backdrop against which the magical and surreal world of Rumpelstiltskin is conjured in a new production.

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  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Main picture: Shane Reid

Almost everything about the new State Theatre Company and Windmill Theatre co-production of Rumpelstiltskin is unusual. The story has been reworked to take place in a surreal modern setting, the actors are high octane, the songs pop-driven and catchy, the costumes stylised and the set is not really built – it’s drawn.


The premiere season of State Theatre Company and Windmill Theatre’s co-production of Rumpelstiltskin takes place October 11-30 at the Dunstan Playhouse.

While it is a play made for families, Chris thinks it will definitely appeal to people in their 20s and 30s – “It’s full of pop culture references and is really witty and catchy,” he says.

Doing the drawing is Chris Edser – one of Adelaide’s quiet achievers. Now based in Melbourne, the illustrator and animator’s work has been seen across the world thanks to projects with clients like Valentino, Nike, The Chicago Bulls, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Despite his global portfolio, working on Rumpelstiltskin has been an entirely new experience for Chris.

“It’s so good – I’ve done theatre before, but I would just be sent a brief and wherever I was working from I would make my work and send it off,” says Chris. “But for this one I sat in on the week of development and I’ve been here for rehearsals the whole time… as part of that everyone has ideas and you can contribute things, and that’s how they like to work.”

As a result of this process, where Chris has worked alongside the whole cast and crew but especially closely with designer Jonathon Oxlade, he’s been able to create animations that are highly reactive and responsive to the world and characters of the play.

“Basically the animation is the set,” says Chris.

“They wanted to bring something new with the way they get between the scenes – there’s a lot of transitions and travelling, so rather than bumping sets in and out this animation will do a transition. There’s bits where Rumpelstiltskin will run from one place to another and the animation will move with him.

“And there’s bits where there’s characters interacting with the animation directly too.”


The aesthetic of the universe Chris has drawn into existence with the help of long-time collaborator Lisa Vertudaches (responsible for the delightful proposing onion, for example) is a mix of Chris’ personal style and the visual language Jonathon Oxlade has developed with director Rosemary Myers over many years at Windmill.

“There’s lots of fun and comedy and big movement and lots of design in the animation too,” says Chris.

“Some of the bits are cartoon-y, but they’re not your traditional animation cartoon – there’s a big design element to it. And it works with Jonathon’s aesthetic for Windmill – they’ve had this really nice look for everything for years now. It’s really considered and it’s nice to know you’re working with someone like that.”


Some of Chris’ animations projected onto the Rumpelstitskin stage

The depth of the collaboration shows through in the amount of crossover seen in the work.

Elements of Chris’ illustrations pop-up in other parts of the production – with patterns from some of his initial drawings adorning various garments seen in Rumplestiltskin’s fashion parade, while bits and pieces of Jonathon’s stage design have become visual motifs in Chris’ projections.

The piece officially opens tonight – meaning Chris’ weeks of frantic creation are finally coming to an end. But for the audiences about to be immersed into the weird world created by him and the entire creative crew, this is just the beginning.


A costume drawing by designer Jonathon Oxlade

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