Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: The Untold Fable of Fritz, Unsettled Theatre, Prague Fringe 2024 ★★★★☆

Fritz is a young, sick boy. He is the King’s neglected son. He is also a puppet – but that’s an ingenious casting decision rather than a Pinocchio-esque character arc. The Untold Fable of Fritz is a heart-warming tale of love, redemption and the lengths a parent will go to in order to make their child well again.

Inspired by Philip Pullman’s story ‘Clockwork’, The Untold Fable of Fritz takes the same elements of a dangerous mountain trip undertaken by an aristocrat and his young son, a mysterious Doctor, a payment of a human life and the restorative affects of unselfish love to fashion a fable from Pullman’s children’s story.  Typically starring animals as characters, and concluding with a clear moral; the substitution of a puppet for an animal is a welcome twist in this fable and definitely allows the actors of Unsettled Theatre to showcase puppetry as an impressive and overlooked form of physical theatre. Meanwhile the moral of their story is never lost despite welcome meanders into comedy, drama and song.

The story tells us of the necessity of knowing and expressing love. When the King realises too late the severity of his son’s illness, he hastens to the only potential solution still available to him – a strange doctor who lives in the mountains. The mountains in their harshness and hostility are notorious for claiming human life but the King, with his son in tow, manages to avoid their perils and stumbles upon the doctor. The only cure the doctor can give is a magical exchange: a life for a life: a son for a father. The deal is made and, though the boy no longer has his father, he has a letter that his father wrote in his final moments and the knowledge of his sacrifice.

The physical expression of love that Fritz hears in his own heart beat and the verbal assurance of love his father’s letter provides gives Fritz solace in his absence. It is a tale suddenly turned on its head: the father whose neglect of his son meant he couldn’t live with the guilt of his death is survived by the son who can live without his father because he is certain of his father’s love. Loving, and showing love, are then the most vital and life-giving acts a human can perform.

The influences on The Untold Fable of Fritz extend beyond the Pullman story. When the King backtracks on his outlawing of magic in his kingdom to save his son, allowing the Doctor to barter for the legal use of magic, it feels as though we are being plunged briefly into the world of Camelot and the Pendragon’s. Moreover in the story of a father’s sacrifice we are reminded of the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Where God demanded Abraham sacrifice his son to prove his love and loyalty to God, The Untold Fable of Fritz shows a King abandoning his duties to his people and his God so that he can save his son. Parental love is divine in its utter unselfishness.

The one thing lacking from this story was an element of darkness. The character of the doctor was poised to fulfil this role but his character becomes comedic as his agenda to re-introduce magic is overshadowed by a duty to return Fritz home. Comedy is undoubtedly one of the strengths of this show but with characters such as John-Paul, the French-man who steps in as substitute King, providing comic relief in such abundance there is definitely room for a more sinister character. This tradition in fairy-tales and fables alike, whilst unrealistic in its dissemination of good and bad, do offer a much needed sharpness to balance the sweet.

Nevertheless, the quality of the script, the talent of the performers as they switch seamlessly between roles and the ingenious use of a small but variable set of props means that The Untold Fable of Fritz packs a powerful dramatic punch. Unsettled Theatre prove themselves masters in storytelling in this production which is sure to bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.

Recommended Drink: A hot chocolate with an abundance of cream and marshmallows – watching this play is akin to the comfort of curling up on a winter’s night in front of a fire and losing yourself in a story.

Performances of The Untold Fable of Fritz have now concluded at Prague Fringe. Keep up with Unsettled Theatre online for future showings.

Eilidh McKenzie

Eilidh is a writer, reader and avid watcher of film, television and theatre. She loves writing that blends comedy with darkness, and makes public the quirks of life and character that we've been taught to hide. She also aspires to be fluent in Spanish, but so far this has proved far harder than expected.

Festivals: Adelaide Fringe (2024) , Prague Fringe (2024)
Pronouns: She/Her