Hansel and Gretel

Saikat Ahamed (adapted from original by Brothers Grimm)
Insane Root Theatre Company
Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol

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James Jip as Hansel in Insane Root's Hansel and Gretel Credit: Jack Offord
Christopher Bianchi as the Witch in Insane Root's Hansel and Gretel Credit: Jack Offord
Annabel Lisk as Gretel in Insane Root's Hansel and Gretel Credit: Jack Offord

Prepare to be thrilled at Arnos Vale Cemetery this festive season by Insane Root Theatre Company’s version of the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.

A perfect family event that has just the right level of excitement and chills in the retelling of this popular, but gruesome, children’s tale with the added attraction for 2021 that it is all outdoors—so something to think about if you have concerns about COVID.

Saikat Ahamed’s script produces just the right balance of humour and foreboding, and also a fun backstory that should appeal to anyone who grew up with an older brother or sister and a healthy (or not) amount of sibling rivalry that should cement its appeal as a family event for all ages.

Insane Root forges on with a programme to stage productions in unusual locations and promoting theatre as a fully immersive experience involving the audience. Arnos Vale Cemetery is the perfect setting for a macabre tale of children lost in the woods. Old yew trees cast shadows like long fingers, overgrown ivy gets tangled in the hair or clothes of the passing audience. The smell of the damp, soft ground underneath reminds us all of the dense woodland the children have to find their way through until it eventually opens up to reveal designer Edmund McKay’s brightly lit candy cane house.

Annabel Lisk and James Jip are endearing as the fractious siblings and work hard to get the audience through the woods, although an argument (of course) means they take us on different paths. Christopher Bianchi as the Witch has a lot of fun with Ahamed’s couplets and taunting some of the children in his lair. Ellie Showering’s score provides fun and energy to the songs. Dan Pollard’s soundscape helps set the tone as we emerge into each setting.

Immersive theatre has its challenges and this production perhaps misses some opportunities to really maximise the sensory potential—some recorded sound is barely discernible during the walk through the woods, the gingerbread house lighting works but could have been so much more.

However, Insane Root deserves applause for bringing such a magical twist to an otherwise well-known tale and producing a thoroughly engaging evening, affirming again theatre’s potential to fully immerse people in an event rather than just a staged production and adding yet another layer to Bristol’s efforts to use its history and locations to engage all.

Reviewer: Joan Phillips