Hansel and Gretel
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
If you go into the woods today, you are, as the nursery rhyme assures us, in for a big surprise. The surprise, in the case of the Citizens Theatre’s lovely staging of the Grimm Brothers’ Hansel and Gretel, is the professional debut of a young woman who is, surely, a future star of musical theatre. Jennifer Harraghy – who performs the role of the irredeemably evil witch, Vanya – exudes deserved confidence in both her impressive vocal range and her intelligently nuanced acting.
Jim Sturgeon’s stoical and manly Peter doesn’t stand a chance. The woodcutter, and father of Hansel and Gretel, is Vanya’s quarry. The witch is a thousand years old, and will soon die unless she can make a man tell her that he loves her. Arriving in the forest in the guise of a cackling magpie, she transforms herself into a glamorous and seductive young woman. Very soon she has the ill-fated woodcutter in her clutches, and his children walking inexorably through the forest, towards the famous gingerbread house.
As they do so, director Guy Hollands proves, once again, that he has a real talent for capturing the enchanting essence of great fairytales. As with last year’s Beauty and the Beast, this production is the epitome of theatrical style. A pair of comic magpies (played by fine student performers Sarah Kennedy and Philip David Atkinson) has the children in raptures before the show has even begun. Excellent designer Neil Haynes’s tremendous creations culminate brilliantly in the scary (but not too scary) witch’s kitchen, complete with illuminated cabinets of sinister ingredients, a skeleton chained to the wall, and a little cage for Hansel.
Gemma McElhinney makes for a delightfully intrepid Gretel, whilst David Carlyle’s Hansel delights young theatregoers with his endless proclamations of macho derring-do. Lynn Kennedy’s Elsa (mother of Hansel and Gretel) is so winsome as to border on the saccharine; but, as she is soon transformed in a beautifully-costumed wolf, that matters little.
More problematic is the curious incongruity in Claire McKenzie’s musical score. The aesthetic consistency of Hollands’s production is not best served by music which veers wildly from romantic airs in the Scottish tradition to big, set-piece songs which sound as if they belong in a West End musical.
Taken individually, McKenzie’s pieces are perfectly accomplished. Together, they make for an odd mix which tarnishes slightly an otherwise superb piece of Christmas theatre
Until January 7
Rating – FOUR STARS
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 12, 2011
© Mark Brown