Due to the distinct lack of opportunities for young opera singers, Opera Holloway have taken their careers into their own hands and created their own company. Aiming to make opera accessible to people of all ages whilst producing high quality productions, the small ensemble bring Humperdinck's well-loved classic Hansel and Gretel to the Fringe.
Christopher Moon-Little's comic new translation takes Humperdinck's original storyline but modernises it with contemporary references for today's audience. You have to admire a man who manages to couple together 'come little girly' and 'here's your Curly Wurly' and rhyme chocolate Hobnobs with food snobs. Clad in football shirts, joggers and gingham school dresses, on a set dressed with a metal A-frame which doubles as Hansel and Gretel's home and the Wicked Witch's cottage, there's no doubt that the intention is to attract a young audience. Fleeting mentions of the two Justins, Timberlake and Bieber, Disney princesses and a Father who exclaims 'I could murder a Jägerbomb', add to the present day feel.
With such a small orchestra (only four members) and simple staging, the voices really have to do all the work. This they achieve with ease. Hansel and Gretel are both highly adept, but it's Sarah Baillie and Alex Otterburn in the roles of Mother and Father who shine; both in possession of powerful voices, they are on stage for too brief a time.
The company have to be applauded for their vision, making opera as inclusive as this without compromising quality is an admirable idea and they have achieved that on the musical side but the staging lets the whole thing down. Some much needed atmosphere is lost in the ultra-simplistic set: the feeling of fear so essential to the story is never present. A few wooden cubes are utilised onstage onto which the ensemble scribble representations of the scenes with write-on wipe-off marker pens; while a clever idea, the execution is poor and the detail lost to all but the front rows.
As an introduction to opera for an unfamiliar audience the entire piece would benefit from being cropped to nearer the hour mark, which could have been easily achieved without losing any essential ingredients. There are a few sequences that are over-long and add nothing to the story.
Opera Holloway show an energy and enthusiasm for opera that readily transmits itself to the audience and the quality of the singing is first-rate. However, it would be interesting to see what the company could do with better artistic direction and a greater budget.