Hansel and Gretel
The Rose Theatre's adaptation of Hansel and Gretel is a fabulous feel-good fable with a wonderfully festive twist - and I couldn't recommend it enough.
Hansel and Gretel wouldn’t have been my first choice of fairy tale to turn into a feel-good festive play.
The original by the Brothers Grimm is a pretty dark story: two kids, a dead mother, a father who abandons them in the woods, and a wicked witch who eats children. I mean, really? It’s not terribly festive.
But let one brilliant writer with a track record of turning out wonderful Christmas productions at it – and things become a whole lot more rosey.
Ciaran McConville has adapted this story to create a masterpiece – it’s everything a Christmas production should be, and more – conveying messages of love, hope, belief and girl-power! It’ll leave you with big smile on your face, and a big dose of festive spirit in your heart. (And possibly a little happy tear in your eye for good measure!)
McConville wrote last year’s festive play at the Rose Theatre as well – Alice in Winterland – and he did a superb job at that one too. But with Hansel and Gretel he’s truly outdone himself. Yes I’m gushing, but it really is that good.
And what makes it even more exceptional is the fact it’s performed by a team of just five professional actors, with the rest of the cast made up of the Rose Youth Theatre. It’s a unique collaboration – and one that director Rosie Jones is justifiably proud. There’s some serious young talent here and she’s showing it to its best effect.
The story is narrated by three forest fairies who begin with the wise words: “Life is not a fairy tale.” Behind them, a giant story book is opened up, and the story quite literally comes to life with digital imagery cast onto the book’s pages. Bravo to the set designers for this wonderfully clever and imaginative design that really does transport audiences into a magical story.
Like the original, this version is set in Black Forest. Only this time orphans Hansel and Gretel are being sent away by the town’s mayor for a seemingly better life. They’re taken into the forest by Otto the Huntsman where they’re left as part of a deal to keep the evil witch Circe happy.
But the children stumble upon a fairy sanctuary called Grub, home to disparate bunch of runaways that cleverly introduces other fairy tale characters: Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel and Pinocchio.
In each of these characters we meet a sassy bunch who have banded together for the greater good. And that’s the central message here – that good will always win out. And even when things aren’t looking good, you’ve always got hope.
Of course, there’s a happy ending. And good triumphs over evil. There’s even a little teenage romance – much to the delight of the three-year-old girl sitting with her mother next to me.
In a brilliant cast, standout performances came from Georgina White as Circe the witch, who flounced and cackled to great effect. Vanessa Fisher was a wonderfully sassy Red Riding Hood exhibiting her own determined brand of girl power, and JJ Henry was excellent in both of his roles of the feeble and weak-willed Mayor, Gerhardt and the flamboyant Blue Fairy.
The youth team is divided into two groups, the orange team and the green team, and on the night I saw the show it was the greens on stage. Sylvie Varcoe was a wonderfully strong and confident Gretel, playing the brave and wiser older sister with great conviction. Oliver Smith is a convincing as Hansel playing the role of the annoying little brother well. Anna Pryce, Francis Redfern and Jack Hardman are strong as the three fairy narrators.
Of course it wouldn’t be Hansel and Gretel without a house made of sweets, and Adam Wiltshire’s gingerbread house is fabulous. Another highlight is the puppetry, in particular the menacing big bad wolf who is Circe’s sidekick.
If you’re looking for a festive show that’s entertaining for the whole family – and with no sign of the eye-rolling ‘he’s behind you’ brigade – then this is for you. It truly is wonderful.