Theatre Preview: Rossetti’s Goblin Market, From the Page to the Stage

New Zealand Troupe is Bringing a Revitalized Victorian Story to Montreal

(left to right) Rochelle Mangan and Eve Gordon onset for dust Palace’s Goblin Market performance. Courtesy The Dust Palace

“Montreal, it is the home of contemporary circus,” says Eve Gordon, co-founder of The Dust Palace, a circus theatre company based in New Zealand.

For her and Mike Edward, the other co-founder of the troupe, bringing their production of The Goblin Market to Canada is quite a treat.

Gordon stars in their production which is based on Christina Rossetti’s iconic Victorian-era narrative poem of the same name, published in 1862.

The story follows two sisters who encounter mysterious goblin men who sell plump, juicy fruit at twilight in the forest by their home. Their temptation for the fruit sends them on a journey of sacrifice, addiction, and finally salvation in a world where the only thing that these two girls have is each other.

To Edward and Gordon, the poem’s story is still just as important today as it was over 150 years ago.

“The thing that really struck us both about it is that the ideas in it are still so intensely relevant. Primarily the stigmatization, or de-stigmatization of sexuality in young women,” Gordon says. “You know, that’s such a massive thing these days […] and this poem really looks at that.”

Rochelle Mangan onset for Goblin Market. Courtesy The Dust Palace

Indeed, Rossetti’s poem is full of vivid and, at times, very sexual imagery. It’s the reason the poem stuck with Gordon when she stumbled upon it while researching classic erotic literature for another production, “as one does,” she giggles.

“At the time when we read it, [Mike and I] were both like, ‘Oh my god, we could make an amazing piece of circus theatre out of this,’ because it’s so visual,” Gordon added.

Gordon believes that circus is the perfect way to recreate and modernize this influential story. She explained that she and Edward like to use circus in a theatrical context since it’s such a visceral form of art.

“It has so much engagement [with the audience] on that visceral level, but then that translates into an emotional level really easily, because it’s already got you in its grasp,” she added. “Circus intensifies and kind of highlights the emotional content of what goes on for the girls in the poem.”

Though Gordon performs in the production and Edward directs, putting it together was a very collaborative process that included all the performers.

“We sort of jam out various things, try all these different ideas, do all of the weird and wacky things that we possibly can,” Gordon explained. “Out of that process we go, ‘Okay, these things worked to tell the story really nicely, these things are beautiful images but don’t necessarily fit,’ so we sort of cull it and shape it into a whole thing.”

Performer Edward Clendon onset for Goblin Market. Courtesy The Dust Palace

Their method of putting shows together is tried-and-true. Gordon explained that they work collaboratively partly because circus performers each have their own energies and skills they can do, so they aim to work a with that.

“Plus you get better performances out of people if they come to it themselves, you know, if they pull out the ideas out of themselves rather than you kind of puppeting them,” she added.

Their collective method of putting together their productions is one of the reasons they are so successful, according to Gordon.

“You definitely need somebody with the pointy end of the stick to shape it at the end of the process, which is what Mike is absolutely genius at. But you can gather more, better content from a wider range of reins.”

Though the theme of female sexuality is pivotal to the original text and the production, Gordon says that at its core, she believes the story is about the repercussions of addiction, another theme that is still very important to this day.

“Whether that’s addiction to people, a person, or whether it’s an addiction to an idea, there’s a lot of people in life who are addicted to the idea of love.”

The Dust Palace // The Goblin Market // Sept. 27 – 29 // Centaur Theatre (453 St. François-Xavier) // $29 for students // $39 for general admission