HANSEL AND GRETAL, 4****, London

and the witch Baba Yaga
by Daniel Winder.
4Stars ****

St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9ED to 3 September 2017.
Mon – Sat NOT Tues at 2.30pm & 7pm.
Runs 2hr 35 mins One interval.

Review: William Russell 8 August.

Daniel Winder’s version of this famous tale by the Brothers Grimm has its problems – it is muddled, pretentious and opens with a long and tedious scene introducing the children who will get lost in the wood which almost makes one feel like getting lost oneself. But there are times when director, cast and creatives excel themselves and save the day. This is such a time. The second scene when Hansel and Gretel end up in the gingerbread house and confront the witch who lives there works a treat and things take wing. The problem is Winder has added to the story a trio of witches from Eastern European myth, the Baba Yaga, sisters who can be kind but also are malicious and evil, as well as a host of characters with peculiar names who seem to serve no purpose. This muddles the story line no end as does the currently fashionable feminist stuff – the story begins in a city controlled by men where women are held in subjugation and a mysterious disease, a black spot, is afflicting all who dare to rebel.

It is a fascist world ruled over by Koschel, who turns out to be a giant spider, with the aid of a brutal militia and male rebels are turned into werewolves. In other words the pudding is overegged. Nor do Hansel and Gretel in the opening scene come across as children one wants to survive. But after that it does get better. The costumes (Sophie Donaldson) are splendid, the scenery (Amber Scarlett) inventive – there is a terrific moment when the gingerbread house opens up – the songs (Candida Caldicot) are jolly, two magnificent puppet birds fly hither and thither (designer Jonny Dixon) and both Hansel and Gretel, resourcefully played by Deshaye Gayle and Rosie Abraham, suddenly turn into sympathetic characters.
The stand out turn is arguably that of Josie Brightwell as the gingerbread Baba, although Nick Howard-Brown, who plays the children’s useless woodman father, creates a spectacularly mean Koschel in the closing scene. But all the cast double and treble roles and do so as if it were no bother at all. Director Amy Draper keeps the whole thing moving briskly, although at 2hrs 35 minutes including an interval it is far too long. Mr Winder, afflicted by too much of the Michael Morpurgos, should have stuck closer to the Brothers Grimm.

Gretel: Rosie Abraham.
Hansel: Deshaye Gayle.
Mother, Baba Yaga Korizima, Baba Yaga Martzanna: Josie Brightwell.
Father, Koschel, Harpier: Nick Howard-Brown.
Vasilisa, Marya, Sergeant: Jennifer Clement.
Ivan, Baba Yaga Gorska, Majka, Officer, Baba Yaga Martzanna, Officer, Perun, Daboga: Will Kelly.

Director: Amy Draper..
Composer: Candida Caldico.
Set Designer: Amber Scarlett.
Costume Designer: Sophie Donaldson.
Lighting Designer: Rachel Sampley.
Sound Designer: Filipe Gomes.
Puppet Designer: Jonny Dixon.

2017-08-12 15:12:13

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