HANSEL & GRETEL
CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
Arrive at the Citizens Theatre for its production of Hansel & Gretel and one is greeted, not by a deep, dark forest or the modest home of the titular siblings’ woodcutter father, but by the beautifully costumed members of a circus. There’s a juggling clown, a stilt walking harlequin, an acrobat and a bunch of musicians dressed to perform in a big top.
One could be forgiven for thinking that one has walked into the wrong show. After all, the scene seems a million miles from the age-old German fairytale that was popularised by the Brothers Grimm.
Yet, Hansel & Gretel it is, albeit reimagined by Stuart Paterson, Scotland’s prolific author of plays based upon children’s stories. In this retelling, the intrepid children find themselves abandoned in a forest in which the queen of the witches Banshee (aka La Stregamama) is in command.
Posing as a Gypsy fortune teller in the circus, the cannibalistic witch lives, not in a gingerbread house, but in a caravan made of all manner of cakes and sweets. As in the original version of the tale, Hansel and Gretel are the victims of the wickedness of their stepmother (Irene Allan) and the naivety of their father (John Kielty). However, here they are also assisted by the good, but weakened, wizard Orin (John O’Mahony).
This narrative may sound a little convoluted, but, in the hands of Paterson, the Citizens’ acclaimed artistic director Dominic Hill and a fine ensemble, it all fits into place nicely. As so often in Hill’s productions, live music and sound are used to great effect, enhancing the story’s sense of fun and adventure, and, when necessary, creating a premonitory atmosphere of menace and danger.
Karen Fishwick (Gretel) and Shaun Miller (Hansel) have all the innocence, energy and courage necessary to prove correct Orin’s insistence (borrowed, it seems, from Franklin D. Roosevelt) that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. By contrast, Allan is brilliantly loathsome, both as the wily and seductive stepmother and the vicious, but hilariously vain La Stregamama.
The set, costume and puppet designs by Rachael Canning make complete a production that exudes class in all departments. From her bleak forest and colourful circus, to impressive puppets (an adorable monkey and a terrifying, gargantuan witch queen), her work is tremendously attuned to the demands of another stylish and enchanting Citizens Christmas show.
Until January 7. citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 13, 2016
© Mark Brown