Hansel And Gretel
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Until December 28;
touring until February 8
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Christopher Hampson’s much-anticipated new ballet, based upon Hansel And Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, continues his predecessor Ashley Page’s admirable penchant for festive shows which combine stylish traditionalism with great dollops of modern chutzpah. In relocating the story to a Scottish city in the late 1950s/early 1960s – complete with horn-rimmed spectacles and rockabilly fashions – Hampson has created a work which is simultaneously clever, classy and comic.
Perhaps the most innovative break with the traditional tale is the manner in which the titular siblings find themselves lost in the forest. Rather than being abandoned in the woods by an evil stepmother, the intrepid kids embark on the adventure of their own volition, so bored are they with the neglect of their boozy, fag-smoking parents.
Meanwhile, we know that Hansel and Gretel are not the only youngsters who are in peril. A small army of schoolchildren – played by a carefully selected group of talented young dancers – has been hypnotised by the witch (who is disguised as a teacher), and is marching, zombie-like, towards the cannibal’s lair that is the gingerbread house.
As the story unfolds, Hampson delights us with a series of neat little tweaks. As the brother and sister leave the city, for instance, the adult hedonists who are out on the town include a gang of likely lads with the word “Ravens” studded across the backs of the leather jackets. It’s a clever prefiguring of the feathered thieves in the forest which eat the pieces of bread (taken from a Scottish pan loaf, of course) that Hansel and Gretel drop as a guide back out of the woods.
On opening night, Constant Vigier and Sophie Martin danced the eponymous heroes with tremendous, child-like energy, abandon and trepidation. Eve Mutso (discarding her beehive wig to expose a head full of hideous scabs) is brilliantly jagged and revoltingly malevolent in her characterisation of the witch.
The score itself, which is adapted beautifully from Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera (staged by Scottish Opera in February of last year), is perfect for ballet. Indeed, as serendipity would have it, the opening bars are charmingly reminiscent of a German Christmas carol.
With excellently attentive set, costume and lighting designs, and choreography and music which play perfectly to the light and, often very bleak, shade of the Grimms’ tale, this is a very accomplished, highly inventive festive ballet indeed.
For full tour information, visit: http://www.scottishballet.co.uk
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 15, 2013
© Mark Brown