Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Banished by their wicked stepmother, Hansel and Gretel must face the witch and find their way home in an interactive show for children from 4 upwards.
We are greeted as we enter and find ourselves walking across a set – a little house at the end of a forest. In the semi round, we sit on cushions, live music accompanies our entrance. A rocking-chair storyteller opens a book and begins a tale…
The set iof this version of Hansel and Gretel is very colourful – and it’s one of the strengths of the piece along with the music – the live piano and percussion serve the mood and help create the atmosphere of fairy tale mystery. The children are played in this fairly faithful version well and the evil stepmother and their father also play their parts well. The step mother is suitably harsh and the father appropriately henpecked, yet kind. So, we have all the ingredients for an engaging piece of story theatre, delivered by a young, enthusiastic cast.
This is essentially an enjoyable production; it’s the delivery that falls short of professional standard. The idiom shifts without design between evocative fairy tale and modern conversational, and this needs work to become more consistent across the near-hour. I hope they opt for the fairy story style and not soap opera if they do take this advice as the maigcal and traditional feel are a big virtue of the production. Currently, too much of the dialogue and monologue is trapped in throatiness and deeper resonant voice projection as well as vocal clarity is needed in too many places. This is most needed in the storyteller. But don’t let that put you off. It’s all so colourful and physically energetic it does hold interest throughout.
One problem involves the placement of a scene where Hansel and Gretel discover the candy house and the children in the audience are invited to collect sweets and lollipops from the stage. They do so and proceed to unwrap them, chew and munch when their attention needs to be fully on a key moment in the story – the appearance of the evil witch. When she does arrive, she has a Scottish accent and it doesn’t quite fit the mood of the story. I think it is because the actor plays it too young, yet walks with a stick.
A tale of greed, of hunger, there’s some nice humour but some of it goes over the head of the children watching. Yet, as a story, both visual and told, it kept the children interested and it’s the energy and commitment of the cast that lifts it. They’ve made good use of the studio space and the semi round and use of rugs and cushions brings us into the scene, but fortunately not too much.
I’d suggest the storyteller gets out of her chair and moves around. She, along with all the cast, project speak well enough but she is lit virtually throughout and not still enough when not narrating. Either be a proper still point or become more integrated into the piece’s movement.
The witch us played by a young actor who is an inconsistent mix of youth and an attempt to play much older. In the end she comes across as a bit bewildering, rather than stick-bent and crone-like. Yet I sense these inconsistencies could be resolved, even during this run at the Fringe. There’s a lot of potental here. And all of the performers show promise, the music is terrific and the set is lovely to walk into!
Bit there’s plenty to see and enjoy and the tale’s essence is kept to, pretty faithfully. Lighting effectively creates the garden, the forest, the fear of night and the house mad eof sweets. It’s an enjoyable hour that kept our seven year-old interested and entertained. He said he really enjoyed it, and isn’t that what really matters in the end?