‘Hunger is the worst feeling in the world’, says the magical storyteller. He is joined on stage with the rest of the cast, to set the scene through a combination of movement and rhyme. Unfortunately, after this promising and creative opener, the production somewhat loses its way and the tale becomes a simple, one dimensional version of the well known fairy tale.
There are some interesting castings. Both children are played by females, there’s no wicked (step) mother and (spoiler alert) the witch is a man. Although a non-misogynistic version of the story is to be applauded, by taking the wicked stepmother out of the equation, there doesn’t appear to be any reason for the father to abandon his children in the woods. Perhaps that makes it more frightening. The inclusion of a storyteller lends some magic at times, but his dual role as witch is confusing - was he a good witch, or a bad one? Consequently, rather than enhancing the Grimms’ story, these changes somewhat dilute it.
On a positive note, Hansel and Gretel are brought to life convincingly in a light pantomime manner, by the two female leads. However, the two male parts (father and witch) are acted straight, which makes the style of the play somewhat mixed. Indeed, the male characters are simply not stupid enough, nor wicked enough, to be believable. The denouement itself falls a little flat and fans of the story will find the decision not to push the witch in the oven a huge disappointment.
However, perhaps the final word should go to the children. The two under fives who were there at the preview said they enjoyed it and both sat silently throughout. Perhaps that’s enough, but maybe the adults should get in free.