HANSEL AND GRETEL by Carl Grose.
Kneehigh Theatre and Bristol Old Vic co-production Tour to 17 April 2010.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 23 February 2010 at Salisbury Playhouse.
A bracing adaptation
Kneehigh tend to appear in theatres like a breath of fresh Cornish air, bringing a rough aesthetic that hides considerable theatrical sophistication. The same bracing Westerly here blows the cobwebs from an old Christmas show standard.
Hansel and Gretel are identical twins only in name – he’s large and always stuck in a book, and she’s slight and an accomplished engineer already. Later they put both sides of their characters to good use in escaping from their horrible fate.
Set in a egg-shaped frame that is all hung about with intriguing ropes and pulleys, we are quickly introduced to Hansel and Gretel’s family life, as well as a couple of talking rabbits who act as commentators throughout the play. Soon famine strikes and a darker tone intrudes as the children are abandoned in the forest, and they then meet an old woman who is not quite what she seems…
It looks great, the adaptation’s clever and there are some excellent performances, but somehow all this seems to lack warmth.
Maybe that’s because things move briskly in this version, and so with a company of 6 (and the hardest-working stage-manager flitting round the edge – she takes a well deserved bow with the performers at the end) there isn’t a lot of time for engaging with the audience.
As the children, Joanna Holden and Craig Johnson remain adults playing down, he adolescent and dopy, she sharp and bright. Both Carl Grose and Giles King have more fun with their badder halves (as the Witch and the Bird respectively) than as Father and Mother. Grose is particularly enjoyable as the Witch – she’s pretty weird to start with (you’d have to be starving to trust her) but when she strips off her disguise she’s truly horrid.
Throughout the story Gretel’s carefully worked out mechanical devices (including the world’s most complicated mouse trap – ever) are a tribute to maker Rob Higgs’ skill. Stu Barker and Ian Ross cover a multitude of instruments as the clever music moves easily from the Tyrol to the Andes, keeping things on the go and supporting the story.
Company: Stu Barker; Carl Grose, Joanna Holden; Craig Johnson; Giles King; Ian Ross.
Director: Mike Shepherd.
Designer: Michael Vale.
Lighting: Mike Gunning.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Music: Stu Barker, Ian Ross.