Legends of fairies, orcs, and goblins were perfectly common in 1859 England when Christina Rossetti wrote her narrative poem "Goblin Market." On the surface it's a simple fairy tale that warns little English girls to stay away from goblins, but there's another level beneath that. There are faint suggestions of adult themes in "Goblin Market," and 21st-century folk might see the story as a warning to girls to resist temptations, particularly the temptations of men.
Sisters Lizzie and Laura are tempted by the goblin market in the haunted glen near their home. They're both familiar with legends that say any girl who samples goblin food will forever pine for more, and waste away, looking for her next fix of goblin goodies.
Despite her own warnings, Laura (Sally Conway) succumbs to temptation and sucks the juice from a goblin man's fruit while Lizzie chants:
"She suck'd and suck'd and suck'd the more...
She suck'd until her lips were sore."
Just as in the legends, she begins to waste away, pining for more of the forbidden goblin fruit. As the old adage has it: "Once you go Orc, you don't go borc"... er... back.
All of which was, no doubt, perfectly innocent in 1859 ... but the sucking of goblin-man "fruit" takes on another context when Lizzy and Laura are played by nubile ingenues dressed in nightgowns. Fathers might come back to see this show every week, if only for the scene where Lizzie (Jannecke Foss) is attacked by goblins, tied up, and forced to suck the juice from their "fruits." The scene where Lizzie returns home covered in goblin "fruit" juice, and lets Laura lick it off, ain't bad either:
"She clung about her sister,
Kiss'd and kiss'd and kiss'd her ... with a hungry mouth."
Of course, all of this was done symbolically through dance, with scarves representing the ... er ... "fruit" juice. There's no literal licking or sucking of anything here; it's still a children's show after all.
In addition to pretty girls fellating goblin juice, there's a bunch of other good stuff in this show. Director/adaptor Bruce Merrill was up to the tricky task of turning a poem into a play. The actors recited the entirety of Rossetti's poem as a narrative, acting out the action as they went, with Lizzy, Laura, and the goblins speaking their dialog where appropriate. The rhyming verse was a bit too literate for kids, but much of the action was conveyed through dance sequences choreographed by Harry Mavromichalis and set to eclectic music by Michael Vitali.
The goblin actors (Benjamin E. Oyzon, Jodi Renee Redmond, and Marta Reiman) wore spooky masks (designed by Chris Mahle), and Merrill demonstrated a keen understanding of children's theatre by prefacing the show with an introduction that let the audience know that the goblins were played by nice actors who just looked scary.
"Goblin Market" is a neglected bit of Victoriana, and Manhattan Children's Theatre deserves credit for bringing it back and letting kids see goblins outside of the Lord Of The Rings movies.
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby