Scottish writer Stuart Paterson now has a
back catalogue of sufficient scale to warrant a revival or two; his adaptation
of Roald Dahl’s
There are, of course, plenty of moral points made to: in some respects, this is a tale about growing up and coming to terms with loss
In most respects, Paterson’s script keeps close to the original, first published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812: a woodman’s son (Hansel) and daughter (Gretel) are left deep in the woods at the behest of their vindictive step-mother, and eventually fall into the clutches of a wicked witch in a sweetie-built cottage. Paterson’s version adds two things: firstly, a wider story arc concerning the escape a monstrous witch in ancient times; secondly, the idea that the child-eating witch is now the nominal head of a colourful circus, whose members search the woods for others to take their place in the witch’s oven.
It’s this latter element that clearly most inspired Hill; the curtain is dominated by the huge face of a laughing clown, and the promise of “The Greatest Show on Earth” comes from the “Citizens Circus”! Also, given that Hill appears reluctant to start any show with a rising curtain, members of the circus troupe first appear, with baggy-trousered “Uncle Shoes” (a wonderful as ever Peter Collins) making mischief among the arriving audience. Quite apart from having genuine stage presence, Jack Dorning (as the acrobatic Rab) deserves praise for so effortlessly walking on stilts across the steeply ranked Citizens Theatre stage. The titular stars, meantime, are Shaun Miller (Hansel) and Karen Fishwick (Gretel), who effectively recreate the innocence and hot/cold emotions of childhood without ever feeling too sweet. Good value in terms of a boo-hiss villain is provided by Irene Allan who plays both the Stepmother and the child-munching La Stregamama, which we latterly understand to be different personifications of the ancient evil witch.
Lizzie Powell’s painterly lighting, along with the harshly contrasting sets and costumes by Rachel Canning, combine with Nikola Kodhabashia’s score (largely performed live on stage, albeit always near the wings) to create a wonderfully strange world that’s as full of delights as it is fears. There are, of course, plenty of moral points made to: in some respects, this is a tale about growing up and coming to terms with loss—“Everyone leaves us,” says Hansel on more than one occasion, but equally Gretel finally embodies the belief “the courage and love that lives in your heart is the strongest magic in the world”. When a fleeing Gretel announces that she’s going to turn back and fight the witch, the audience can’t help but cheer.
Full of incident and interest, this is a worthy revival of a show that just fits the Christmas period perfectly.