Hansel and Gretel
Glasgow, Theatre Royal
14 January 2017
There aren’t many productions of Hansel and Gretel around, which might lead you to conclude it’s not such a popular story. Well Christopher Hampson’s version, first unveiled for Christmas 2013, turned out to be a terrific seller for the company. It was no fluke, either, and this season the audience has again turned out in even bigger numbers for its seasonal treat. Why? Well, first and foremost, it’s a story about children – so bound to appeal at Christmas. But canny Hampson builds further by including local young children from wherever the ballet plays – so at the beginning and end particularly there is a mix of high art and a community effort on stage. The realism is rammed home because this H&G is set in more modern times and what child hasn’t dreamed of running away from home?
While most people are familiar with Hansel and Gretel and leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in a forest so they won’t get lost, the full story, as presented in this production, is scarily macabre as a witch finds the lost pair, takes them into her house, plies them with all the sweets and foods they love (cream cakes x loads!) but is actually just feeding up Hansel to eat. Of course good triumphs and the Witch meets with a gory end, roasted in her own oven – wonderfully presented in a Tom and Jerry cartoon way.
That’s essentially Act 2 – in Act 1 Hansel and Gretel decide to leave an unhappy home to find their mysteriously lost friends and it’s about their adventures in the forest and meeting with the Witch disguised as a beautiful lady in the moon – a sweetly-done bit of flying and fabric stagecraft. At the beginning of Act 2 there is something of an interlude as the Dew Drop Fairy and her fairy attendants dance for the children – almost a (Nutcracker) Land of Sweets moment that pleases the audience, busy lapping up some traditional ballet before the capering in the Witch’s gingerbread house. The cartoon-like sets, and the costumes with a 1960’s period feel, are wonderfully conjured by Gary Harris and it’s all wafted along with Engelbert Humperdinck’s engaging original music, played with gusto by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.
Act 2 of this Hansel and Gretel is terrific, pacey, fun and readily speaks for itself, but to get the most from a slower Act 1, and understand the subtleties of back story and various scenes, it’s a good idea to read the programme notes (and the cast sheet gives some brief pointers as well). The night I saw the production Constant Vigier and Kayla-Maree Tarantolo (just joined the company and one to watch) were the leads – keenly observed and full of wonder, constantly supporting and egging each other on. But most of all I enjoyed Marge Henrick’s Witch for its sense of mystery, darkness and surreal comedy fun. A wicked Witch indeed. But this is very much a communal effort by the whole company and one that stretches out to embrace kids in the cities it plays to – showing new generations how relevant and effortlessly entertaining ballet can be.