Hansel and Gretel
NIE (New International Theatre) with Tobacco Factory Theatres
Brewery Arts Centre
We walked into a magical space in the Brewery Theatre on a blustery December Saturday morning. On stage the cast of Hansel and Gretel were strolling and playing instruments as the audience came in and settled.
The audience was a mixture of children, parents and grandparents. The set was simple and very effective, a backdrop of spindly, leafless silvered trees, well lit—and cold. Two soft toys, Hansel and Gretel, were top and tailed in a metal bed.
Once the audience was seated, the cast started to play a lively tune to introduce the play. First we had to establish the right language from the multilingual company, and, fortunately, we settled on English. We then decided where the play would be set, somewhere in Central Europe, maybe Poland or Czechoslovakia. Certainly it was cold, snow on the ground, crops had failed, no food in the shops, no food in the cupboards, even the remaining crumbs had been eaten.
Hansel and Gretel’s mother had died and their father had remarried. Their Stepmother was not only hungry and angry, she was Norwegian and very cruel. Hansel, played by Kieran Edwards, and Gretel, played by Stefanie Mueller, were very, very hungry and very, very cold.
Hansel overheard his father and stepmother arguing over what they were going to do with the children. They would be tricked into going deep into the woods to collect wood and then left. Hansel collected some white stones from outside the house and hid them in his pocket.
The following day, they went out to the woods, Hansel left his trail of stones and Father left the children in a clearing far from home. After they realised that they had been abandoned and Father was not coming back, the children made their way home, following the trail of stones. Things went well at home for a time, but then the crops failed again, once more there was no food left in the shops, starvation and austerity ruled.
Once again the cruel Stepmother tells the weak Father that the children would have to be taken even deeper into the forest this time and left. The white stones had been taken away so Hansel dropped breadcrumbs along the way. Calamity! Birds ate the breadcrumbs and they were truly lost.
The two abandoned children wandered through the forest until they found a wonderful gingerbread house, with a lovely old lady who fed them the food of their dreams. Of course she was not really a lovely old lady, this is a tale adapted from the tales of the brothers Grimm, she was an evil witch determined to fatten up Hansel to eat. The children outwit her of course, Gretel tricks and dispatches the witch in her own cooker. The witch out of the way and Hansel free they make their way home along with the treasure they find in the witches house.
At home they find that the cruel stepmother had died from starvation and Father is overjoyed to see them, especially as they can now buy all the food they need with the treasure.
Plenty of knockabout fun, chases and audience participation, a great cast, maybe some of the references were a little above the younger audiences heads, but they kept everyone’s attention all the way through with great enthusiasm and lively music played by the cast.
Carly Davis plays a cynical narrator and the witch, as well playing and directing the music, the weak yet humorous Father is Klavs Rosell Westi, the fierce and angry Norwegian Stepmother is the rubber-faced Mia Hawk. Excellent lighting design is by Anna Barrett.
No writer is credited, but the director is Alex Byrne, set and costume design by Stefanie Mueller, lighting design by Anna Barrett and musical direction by Carly Davis.
No evening performance, mornings and afternoons only, until 30 December.
Reviewer: Denis W McGeary