Review: Scottish Opera: Hansel and Gretel, Festival Theatre

No wonder their mother’s so exasperated as, for the purposes of storytelling, young Hansel and Gretel are played by a soprano and mezzo-soprano who are no spring chickens. ****

Plump, argumentative and beyond the point where any parent should provide a roof over their heads, sending them into the forest for abandoning their chores seems more than reasonable. If only Mother had known that in the woods lies a terrifying witch with plans to bake her babies into gingerbread men.

Presenting a new English translation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s acclaimed 1893 opera by the production’s director, Bill Bankes-Jones, Scottish Opera provides a remarkably fresh yet faithful vision of the fairytale.

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Bankes-Jones’ main concern has been capturing the realistic relationship between family members that has so endeared audiences to the story, a feat which he achieves admirably. The quick turn from fun to fighting between Hansel and Gretel is delightful to witness and their parents’ engaging banter is easy to identify with.

While mezzo-soprano Kai Rüütel, as Hansel, and soprano Ailish Tynan, as Gretel, indulge in charming child-like folly that mesmerises the audience, their physicality and comic timing has room for development.

Where Bankes-Jones falters is his interpretation of the witch’s part in the second act, a Satanic Truly Scrumptious whose little gingerbread cottage wouldn’t look out of place on Marie Antoinette’s Versailles farm works well up to a point. Leah-Marian Jones’ portrayal of the sickly sweet yet deadly witch is certainly well formed, yet her broomstick dance never quite achieves the comic energy one would expect.

The lacklustre second act, however, may well be explained by a stunning pre-interval finale as a crowd of angels descend to protect the sleeping children. The narrative in the second act never offers the opportunity to reprise such a strong visual image, the finale being given over to a child chorus in stark contrast to the adult voices on stage.

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Designer Tim Meacock has created an austere and ever-shifting woodland set that changes in mood as quickly as Hansel and Gretel themselves, with the first glimpse of a gingerbread man unexpectedly chilling. It’s certainly an excellent way to put the children off sugary snacks this half term.

Run ends Saturday

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