Hansel and Gretel

Nov 30 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Refreshing

Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre: Wed 29 Nov – Sat 2 Dec
Review by Thom Dibdin

What larks are to be had up at the Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre this week, where the St Serf’s Players are staging Norman Robbins’ pantomime adaptation of Hansel and Gretel.

It’s a fine piece of amateur pantomime, made all the stronger by the participation of the young folk of the Trinity Theatre Company, who not only provide a 13-strong singing and dancing troupe of villagers, but also the title characters and the pair of lovebirds who are necessary to the formal pantomime structure, if not the plot itself.

Glen Sutherland, Moira Macdonald and James Peat. Pic: Jack Paterson

As is right and proper in the pantosphere, director Jack Paterson keeps his core panto characters front and centre, despite Robbins’ script retaining nearly every element of the traditional tale.

Sheila Mann provides the forces of good as the Forest Fairy, who has kept the village of Pumpernickel happy and carefree for untold years. Against her, the deliciously cackling Rona Arnott is Attrocia the Witch, intent of bringing chaos into this idyll.

vile and pompous

Lee Shedden brings the frocks as a somewhat dowdy but suitably broke and back-chatting Dame Do-good, who has just taken in young Hansel and Gretel as lodgers, while their parents look for a new home.

All of which is much to the anger of James Peat’s vile and pompous Sir Rupert de Rottweiller, Mayor of Pumpernickel, who wants his back rent and is happy to send his newly appointed bailiffs Potz (Moira Macdonald) and Panz (Glen Sutherland) to get it.

Graeme Lobban leads the majority of the audience participation routines as Dicky Dimwit – Robbins has a strong liking for nominative determinism in his character names – Dame Do-good’s beau.

Graeme Lobban and Lee Sheddon. Pic Jack Paterson

For the lovers, Mari Wolff is Karl, a young forester with big eyes for the mayor’s put-upon kitchen maid Lucy Lockett (Chloe Brown). They play this quite straight, more as servants to the plot than as pantomime charicatures with the traditional slapping of thighs for the trouser role.

Astute direction from Paterson ensures that Robbins’ script succeeds in its aim of integrating the pantomime business and fairytale plot with ease. Even the introduction of many songs from the young forces of the Trinity Theatre Company works, surely a result of their strong direction from Cherie Brown.

strong naturalism

Key to this integration is the nicely naughty pair of children in Do-good’s charge.

Emilia  Pidcock makes a delightfully clever Gretel, with Ciaran Hogg leading her on as Hansel. They have a strong naturalism to their performances as they push the boundaries of what is forbidden and go off into the forest looking for more blackberries, having eaten the ones they already had.

Part of the success of the production is its refusal to dwell on any minor flaws. There is no expectation that the prompt will not be used, or that every dancer in every song will be exactly the same as the one next to her. There is no lacking verve or vim, however, with strong self-belief from all on stage.

Glen Sutherland (left), villagers, Mari Wolff and Chloe Brown (rear) with Ciaran Hogg and Emilia Pidcock (on floor) and Moira Macdonald (right). Pic Jack Paterson

Where this feels as if it could do better is in the adaptation of the script to a Scottish setting. A Norman Robbins script is a framework within which to create your own bespoke show. So it jars when the bairns are not searching for brambles, for example, or the cities mentioned in the snappily performed Dancing in the Streets are still Chicago and New Orleans.

There are also areas where the stagecraft from the adult performers could attend more to the detail. Lobban creates a real rapport with the first few rows of the audience, however those further back need to take their laughter cues from the front. And it is not as if he can’t project, as he does when he lets rip in a musical number.

excellent evening of pantomime

The problematic element of Hansel and Gretel, which meant it was little performed in the post-war years, is the burning of the witch in an oven, which leaves no room for the baddy to see the error of their ways. This is overcome here by the introduction of pantomime’s traditional miserly landlord figure. And while the witch is clinically disposed of by Emilia Pidcock, the necessary rehabilitation of the dastardly de Rottweiller is rather glossed over.

None of this detracts from the entertainment value of this excellent evening of pantomime. The song choice is solid – both ancient and modern – and there are a few contemporary political jokes thrown in with the groaners, the nearly blue and  the lavatorial asides.

Dame Do-good has a new (to her) frock for every new scene and the cast are invested enough in the show to ensure that when they get to the “it’s behind you” ghost routine, it is a thing of screaming beauty.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre, 1a Clark Road, EH5 3BD.
Wed 29 Nov – Sat 2 Dec 2023
Wed-Fri: 7.30pm; Sat: 2pm & 6.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Cast of Hansel and Gretel. Pic: Jack Paterson


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