Hansel & Gretel

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Following on from the huge success of last year’s Peter Pan, Oldham Theatre Workshop bring another classic to life with their spin on the much-loved fairy tale Hansel & Gretel.

The intimate performance space at Oldham Library is transformed into an atmospheric wintry wood as we follow Hansel & Gretel on their unexpected journey; cruelly abandoned in the forest at the request of their wicked Stepmother they think their luck has changed when they stumble upon a little house made of gingerbread and sweets, how wrong they are!

Creatives Sarah Nelson and James Atherton once again prove to be a formidable team with this joyful and poetic production; the use of songs, puppets and imaginative storytelling all marrying beautifully to bring this Brothers Grimm tale to vivid and vibrant life. The original songs are both inventive and enormously catchy….munch, munch, nibble, nibble and combined with a melodic score add humour and depth to this wonderful piece.

The strong cast deliver the story with real style and delightful conviction. Natasha Davidson and Sam Winterbottom are excellent as Hansel & Gretel whose childlike innocence develops into strength and determination when the going gets tough as this story becomes a great example of good triumphing over evil.

Daniel Harkshead makes for a strong and loving father, battling between the love for his children and the manipulating ways of his bitter wife. Sophie Ellicot is outstanding as both the stepmother and the calculating witch; clearly having great fun with both parts and proving once again what a fine character actor she is.

Madeleine Edmondson quite literally shines as the moon, doubling up as narrator she guides us through this enchanting story beautifully, young and old enthralled with every line. While the addition of three young performers playing the woodland animals brings extra cute factor to this charming production.

Oldham Theatre Workshop once again excels at delivering accessible and enthralling theatre. This magical production will enchant people of all ages, taking you on a feel-good, heart-warming festive adventure which at only £8 per ticket proves to be a festive treat for the pocket too.

Magical storytelling delivered with real heart, a delight for all the family.

Catch Hansel & Gretel at Oldham Library until 29th December tickets available here.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
Dire

A STELLA Artois-swigging father, a confectionary house made of Nestlé Caramac and a witch with a Rupaul’s Drag Race-inspired wardrobe… It’s clear that Opera North’s production of Hansel and Gretel has two feet firmly planted in the 21st century rather than The Brothers Grimm’s latter-day Germany.

A scrumptious opera that totally satisfies our appetite for entertainment, Opera North are to be congratulated on a stupendously inventive production of the Engelbert Humperdinck classic. Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Maiden and Cinderella are part of a grand experiment that sees three ‘Deliciously Dark Fairy Tales’ from contrasting European traditions brought together in a single season – all of which are on at The Lowry this week.

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
Dire

The action begins in suitably ‘Grimm’ surroundings, a kitchen-sink high-rise occupied by an empty fridge, two hungry children, the eponymous Hansel (Katie Bray) and Gretel (Fflur Wyn) and their despairing mother, Gertrud. When their chaotic play sends the contents of a milk jug flying, Gertrud sends Hansel and Gretel out into the woods to pick wild berries for the family supper. Their father, Peter (Stephen Gadd, who plays a wonderfully reeling drunken broom seller), is aghast when he returns home – revealing that the forest is home to an evil witch with ‘Satan’s eye and a heart of stone’. The two children awake the following day to find a magical house has appeared in the woods, constructed from Bird’s Custard and BN Biscuits. While they gorge from the fridge, the witch returns and fires up her oven… ready for a very special bake!

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
Dire

Opera North veteran Fflur Wyn, and Katie Bray, of the company’s Albert Herring and The Barber of Seville, are delightful together – playful, charming and utterly believable as children. Their deftness with a video camera adds to the production’s signature special effect: freestyle camera footage – captured by the actors in real-time – which is livestreamed and magnified onto the walls of Giles Cadle’s pared-down set (that also features in The Snow Maiden and Cinderella). A masterful stroke by video designer Ian William Galloway, the hand-held camera acts as a supporting cast member in its own right; it boasts two particular ‘wow’ moments: the children’s journey through the forest and the big reveal of the witch’s house, which solicited audible gasps of delight.

Hansel and Gretel - Engelbert Humperdinck - Opera North - 2nd February 2017

Hansel - Katie Bray
Gretel - Fflur Wyn
Gertrud/Witch - Susan Bullock
Peter - Stephen Gadd
Sandman - Rachel J. Mosley
Dew Fairy - Amy Freston

Conductor - Christoph Altstaedt
Dire

When not doubling up as Gertrud, Susan Bullock plays the witch with a pantomime villain’s relish, brandishing her whisk as a wand and spooning her fattening concoction into Hansel, all with a wicked twinkle in her eye. Costume designer Christina Cunningham’s and wigs and makeup supervisor Kim Freeland’s choices for this role are perfect, complementing Bullock’s characterisation and adding to the overall comedic effect.

Both conductor Christoph Altstaedt and director Edward Dick have made their company debut this season; their energy, inventiveness and commitment to making opera more accessible to a modern audience shows. There is so much to love about this enchanting production, which marries a lively score, sparkling duets and trios, characterful performances and cutting-edge video technology with a well-loved, timeless fairy tale.

Tickets for Opera North’s productions of Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and The Snow Maiden are available for purchase at http://www.thelowry.com/events/category/Opera

Reviewer: Michelle Ewen