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Theatre / The Twelve Months

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The Twelve Months is a Russian fairytale play by Samuil Marshak, written in 1942-1943 and first performed in 1947. It still remains very popular in the Eastern Bloc, with three film adaptations, an opera by S. Banevich and an opera by R. Shchedrin based on it.

Based on a folk tale from South-Eastern Europe, it has overall a standard Fairy Tale plot, taking place on New Year's Eve and the following day. The two major storylines center around a beautiful orphan girl, who is, naturally, abused by a Wicked Stepmother, and a Spoiled Brat of a queen whose decree to bring snowdrops to the palace in midwinter actually triggers most of the plot. The main character, on her stepmother's orders, goes for a hopeless search of snowdrops into the winter forest, but there she meets the sympathetic Twelve Months, who gather in the woods for their own New Year celebration.

This play and its adaptations include examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: The Queen's Professor often slips into speaking long and very academic-sounding words and practically forgets about the point.
  • Adaptational Comic Relief: The Queen gets that in Shchedrin's opera – originally a Spoiled Brat but behaves better than in the play, also due to an Age Lift she is a Femme Fatale wannabe, and because of her being a grown woman her ridiculous decrees look especially idiotic.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: In Shchedrin's opera, May and June each have a terribly boastful "I Am Great!" Song. Nothing of the sort occurs in the original.
  • Adapted Out:
    • In the opera by Shchedrin, there are no Ambassadors, no Professor, no Chief Lady-in-Waiting, no Young Soldier, and no talking animals.
    • In the feature film, the raven and the wolf don't appear.
  • Age Lift: The Queen, fourteen years old in the play, is a grown woman who spends time with lovers in the 2015 opera.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Appearance: The spring and summer months are young men dressed in green, the autumn months are middle-aged and dressed in yellow and brown, and the winter months are old and dressed in white fur coats.
  • Bit Character: With twelve of them onstage, it's only natural that some of them would get less characterisation than others. The Months from May to November have little to say or do (August, for example, doesn't even have any lines outside of the Months' bonfire song).
  • Break the Haughty:
    • The Queen gets abandoned by most of her courtiers and almost freezes to death in the forest, and later is forced to plead for help with the girl she has previously threatened with execution. All that inspires her to change her ways.
    • The Stepmother and Stepsister get turned into dogs and are to stay like that for at least three years.
  • Clever Crows: The old and wise forest raven constantly outwits the wolf, preventing him from attacking the Stepdaughter.
  • Cool Horse: The horses the Months give to the Stepdaughter are gorgeous and incredibly fast. As the Old Soldier puts it, there are no horses like these even in the royal stables.
  • Damsel in Distress: The Stepdaughter nearly gets frozen in the forest in the first act, thanks to her stepmother sending her to pick snowdrops, and is almost executed by the Queen in the second act after refusing to reveal where she has picked them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Queen of all people has moments of it sometimes.
    Chief Lady-in-Waiting: Nature makes me mad!
    The Queen: I knew it was in your nature. I’m very sorry for you, you poor lady.
    Chief Lady-in-Waiting: No, Your Majesty, I simply meant to say I madly love nature.
    The Queen: It seems, though, it doesn’t love you so much. Your nose has all gone blue.
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • In the play, The Patriarch of the Twelve Months is January, while in the opera by Shchedrin it's December, and January has barely several lines. In the play, December only played an essential part in the first scenes.
    • In the feature adaptation, the forest animals only appear in the opening scene. In the play, they pop up later as well.
  • Desperate Plea for Home: The Queen, who started as a major Royal Brat, gets stranded in the winter forest and deserted by most of her courtiers. When January offers to grant any wish of hers, she only begs him to let her get back to the palace.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": No names are present at all, with only the Twelve Months an exception in a sense. In the Russian-Japanese version, the Girl/Stepdaughter gets a name, Anna (as the version added several episodes about the girl's life with her Stepmother and Stepsister, it was probably done to avoid their constant Hey, You!).
  • Fat Bitch: Never stated directly in the play, but most adaptations make the Stepmother and Stepsister fat, to play up Beauty Equals Goodness and emphasise the fact that the Stepdaughter is undernourished.
  • Gender Flip: Various Bit Character months are often cast as women.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Very much so, especially if you are in her inner circle, as she is very quick to order executions. Since most of the actual ruling is done by the ministers, the smallfolk isn't much bothered. The Stepdaughter doesn't even know much about the Queen until the Old Soldier tells her.
  • Good is Not Nice: February is usually pretty harsh, even towards the main heroine, and initially appears to be reluctant to help her. However, it is gradually revealed he is good-hearted, just very, very strict and rule-abiding.
  • Green Aesop: The importance of being careful with nature is stressed several times in the play. When they praise the Stepdaughter, the months particularly mention that she would never break a branch in vain or pluck a berry unless it's ripe.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: In the feature adaptation, the kind and innocent Stepdaughter has pale blonde hair.
  • Heel–Face Turn:
    • The Queen begins to reform in the end, talking kindly to the Old Soldier, deciding to make amends with the Stepdaughter, and overall promising she won't forget the lessons she has learned.
    • The Stepdaughter believes her stepmother and stepsister have changed for the better after getting turned into dogs.
  • "I Am" Song: In the opera, the months all have that.
  • Impossible Task: First the Queen demanding fresh spring flowers in midwinter, next the stepmother sending the heroine into the night to actually gather these flowers.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: The Stepdaughter, as expected. Despite being bullied all day long, she remains gentle-hearted.
  • Lighter and Softer: The 2015 opera, especially since almost the whole Queen subplot is cut out.
  • Love Before First Sight: Downplayed, but the Girl states she has always loved the month of April in general, even before meeting the Anthropomorphic Personification.
  • Maybe Ever After: In the end, the Stepdaughter is eager to stay in touch with April and keeps the engagement ring he has given her, but she returns home to live her own life and neither of them speaks of any further commitment or plans thereof.
  • Muggle–Mage Romance: Human Stepdaughter with no magic powers and the personification of the month of April.
  • Never Trust a Title: Rodion Shchedrin's opera is, for some reason, called A Christmas Fairytale, even though the events of the plot take place on New Year's Eve, like in the original, and Christmas is never referenced at all.
  • "Number of Objects" Title: For the personifications of the twelve months of the year.
  • Playing Sick: In the feature film adaptation, the Stepsister pretends she has a horrible cough... right until the Stepdaughter is out of the house.
  • Practically Different Generations: Downplayed, since it concerns immortal entities, but the spring Months are shown to be barely twenty at most and the winter Months are elderly greybeards. It is implied that it's not just their appearance but some actual age difference is involved as well (or perhaps there is a psychological age difference stemming from the appearance), since at one point December says April's young (in the context that he's the right age to be concerned with romance).
  • Pretty in Mink: Present in the play but explicitly shown in the feature adaptation. The Stepdaughter gets a white-and-silvery fur coat and cap, and April is almost dumbstruck with admiration when he sees her.
  • Relationship Compression: The 2015 opera. In the first act, there's nothing at all to indicate April's feelings for the girl (except that he calls her beautiful, but that's when all the months praise her for some thing or other), or hers for him – the whole plan of helping the girl comes from December, and the heroine lies unconscious in the snow for most of the time. In the second act, April sings her a rushed sort-of serenade and the next thing we know, she's swooning over his ring.
  • Rescue Romance: The Stepdaughter's feelings for April bloom very quickly, since he is the first to offer her a place at the fire, he is the one to suggest the Months reorder time to help her, and on top of it all, it's his flowers that she needs.
  • Rule of Three: If the Stepmother and Stepsister reform, they will be turned back into humans after three years. If it takes longer for them to change their ways, the spell will be lifted in six years, or in nine, or... as the Old Soldier realises, dogs might not live that long.
  • Savage Wolves: The wolf in the forest is starving, angry, and ready to become a man-eater. Fortunately, he is also a coward.
  • Screwball Squirrel: In the opening scene in the forest, the squirrels tease the hare, playing chase with him and then taunting him that he can't jump high enough.
  • Setting Update: The 2015 opera is set in an Ambiguous Time Period, a cross between modern times and the eighteenth century.
  • Shipper on Deck: It is quickly shown that several of the Months, January and March most prominently, actively ship April and the girl. Even more so in the feature film, where it’s made clear from their gestures and facial expressions.
    Girl (bows to January): Thank you!
    January (with a chuckle and a twinkle, ushering April forward): Don’t bow to me, but to my younger brother, the month of April. It was him who asked us to help you, and who brought the snowdrops from under the ground.
  • Sibling Team: The Months are brothers and always work together, reaching a compromise if any problems arise.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The Stepmother and Stepsister don't get turned into dogs in the opera.
  • Threat Backfire: When the ambassadors run away in the storm in the final act and take the Queen's horses, the Queen threatens to execute them. They remind her they can only be executed by their own monarchs.
  • Truer to the Text: The 1972 feature film is much closer to the original than the 1956 cartoon or the 1980 anime, with most scenes from the play being adapted word-to-word.
  • Vague Age:
    • The Stepdaughter is "not younger than the Queen" (who is around fourteen), and that's all we get. Probably done deliberately, so that the romantic subplot could be played up or downplayed or removed entirely, depending on the production.
    • Likewise, in different interpretations the spring Months (described as very young in the play, as contrasted to the simply "young" summer Months) can be any age from preteen to twenty-odd.
  • With This Ring: A lot of the Stepdaughter's trouble comes from the fact that a) the Stepsister has stolen her magical engagement ring and b) she must never tell anyone who gave it to her.

Alternative Title(s): Twelve Months