HANSEL AND GRETEL
Brewery Arts Centre 122a Highgate LA9 4HE To 29 December 2013.
21-24; 26-29 Dec 3pm Mat 21, 23, 24, 27, 29 Dec 11am.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 01539 725133.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 December at mac, Birmingham.
Notable Innovative Experience.
New International Encounter (NIE) is the company performing this much-lauded version. Their main Encounter in personnel seems between Britain and Denmark, though there’s a cross-Europe awareness when deciding the country far enough away from here and now where Hansel and Gretel lived.
This openness is part of the frank admission of story-making, something which ironically increases the sense of reality in these Grimm happenings. We know it’s imaginary, so might as well go along for the ride.
By engaging with the stylistic variety, we can accommodate all sorts of elements – the informal opening, as the cast move around the stage while audience members arrive, the actors playing instruments, the open acknowledgment of the fiction, and the fact of being in a theatre – the inevitable chase referring to the doors, foyer and the interval.
Yet there’s a consistency of tone within all this variety which means Alex Byrne’s cast know precisely how to gauge each moment, and make the impact much more than pantomimic joking. Each half has a structure which focuses, within the cold, silvery forest, on the bedroom at home, then the Witch’s house.
That Witch finally emerges out of Carly Davis’ performance. Hitherto a narrator, for some moments Davis denies her new character is a Witch, prevaricating before cheerfully admitting she is that character. Or will become it; there’s a sense of an actor being cajoled, not altogether reluctantly, into a role.
What makes this Hansel and Gretel remarkable is the way this seemingly casual, almost improvisational air of performers aware they’re performing interfuses the story.
Once they’re committed to it, we follow them. The whole theatre, if not the world, becomes a stage, and contributes to the action. It means Gretel’s dispatch of the Witch into her oven is marked in sound and lighting, but also by the performers’ concentration. It’s a sustained effort and a painful experience, for Gretel and Witch respectively.
With the clear, natural sense of brother and sister’s lives, and the low-key yet pointed acting of family relationships, NIE’s free-flowing, yet carefully charted, style creates a highly individual, captivatingly fresh piece of theatre.
Hansel: Kieran Edwards.
Gretel: Stefanie Mueller.
Stepmother: Mia Hawk.
Father: Klavs Rosell Westi.
Witch: Carly Davis.
Director: Alex Byrne.
Designer/Costume: Stefanie Mueller.
Lighting: Anna Barrett.
Musical Director: Carly Davis.
This production of Hansel and Gretel is presented by NIE in association with Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol. It was originally co-produced with Cambridge Junction.