Hansel and Gretel

Scottish writer Stuart Paterson now has a back catalogue of sufficient scale to warrant a revival or two; his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine is currently doing good business at Dundee Rep while, here, Citizens Theatre artistic director Dominic Hill gives fresh life to Paterson’s stage adaptation of the old German fairytale, first performed at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum in 1998.

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. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

A delicious festive treat for all the family this Christmas!

Run away to the circus with Hansel and Gretel!

Left deep in the forest with no hope of finding their way home, Hansel and Gretel stumble across a colourful group of performers from a magical circus. They meet Rab, the greatest acrobat who ever lived; Moff the bravest horse rider in all the world, and Uncle Shoes, the clown with the biggest shoes, funniest face and biggest pants!

Together they must rescue Rab and Moff’s father from the hungry witch and find their way home. But they can’t do it alone – they need your help! Join Hansel and Gretel on a magical adventure this Christmas.

Directed by Dominic Hill, whose five-star production of A Christmas Carol captivated audiences in 2014.