Review – Hansel & Gretel

January 9, 2014 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆   Sweet and spicy

Festival Theatre: Wed 8 – Sat 11 Jan 2014

Dark yet sparkling, uplifting yet chilling, Christopher Hampson’s new take on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of a witch with a gingerbread house is a ballet of great contrasts and unexpected resolutions.

Creating his first full length work for Scottish Ballet, artistic director Hampson has re-imagined the original story – bringing it to a small town in austerity Britain of the 1950s.

Sophie Martin and Constant Vigier in Christopher Hampson’s Hansel & Gretel. Photograph by Andy Ross

Sophie Martin (Gretel) and Constant Vigier (Hansel). Photo: Andy Ross

And if Hampson uses much of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel opera music, this is no ballet version of the opera, as it is edited in with musical extracts from later operas Konigskinder and Sleeping Beauty.

Gone, then, is the hateful stepmother and the children abandoned in the woods. Instead, Hampson brings on Eve Mutso’s chameleon-like witch right from the overture, terrorising the town by stealing its children.

Poor old Hansel and Gretel are kept under lock and key by their hardworking and loving parents to keep them safe. Bored to tears, it is their own escape into town for a bit of adventure while their parents sleep which brings them into contact with danger – lured into the woods and to the gingerbread house.

Sophie Martin and Constant Vigier make plucky and human characters of the children. Martin’s Gretel is much the leader, older and more circumspect to Vigier’s easily-led Hansel. It is she who goes back to get a loaf of bread as they sneak out of the house.

Indeed, Hampson is big on characters all the way through. Luciana Ravizzi as the chain-smoking mother and Christopher Harrison as the hard-drinking father might have their faults, but you can’t help but feel for them – working hard to provide meagre scrapings for their beloved children.

And it is this which gives the ballet its twists to the gut – Hampson uses the universal fears of parents for the safety of their children and reinforces that by making the parents ones you can empathise with. By making the witch a teacher in the opening scene, a usually trustworthy figure, he just magnifies that sense of foreboding.

Carried across the stage by a conspiracy of ravens

Yet this is not about realism. Once out of the house and through town, the woods are a scary place. Lost, the Sandman sprinkles dust in the children’s eyes, inspiring dream-filled sleep in which the witch descends on a moonbeam and is carried across the stage by a conspiracy of ravens.

Eve Mutso, Remi Andreoni, Constant Vigier and Sophie Martin. Photo: Andy Ross

Eve Mutso, Remi Andreoni, Constant Vigier and Sophie Martin. Photo: Andy Ross

There are dreams of food – glorious food – with the parents finding the children but becoming magically transformed into toffs who dance around the stage. And there are tutu-clad Dew Drop fairies which shimmer on point across the stage.

Once in the gingerbread house, Mutso’s glamorous witch transforms herself into her real being – an ugly sprite, short-sighted and intent on plumping up Hansel in order to eat him. Here there are magical rag dolls, dancing sweet treats and other divertissements which bring a sense of the classic to the piece, while allowing room for more expressive and grounded movement from the children.

As a technical piece of dance, this has stepped up several gears since its premiere in Glasgow a month ago. The characters are more fully rounded and the lines of the corps de ballet are more crisp – without being over regimented.

But where the whole production drifts away from perfection is in those early scenes. In many ways, they are what gives the ballet its strength and its meaning. Looking at them with a full knowledge of the plot, it is easy to understand Hampson’s motivations for the changes he has made and read new meanings into the performance.

Without such a knowledge, however, the opening scenes are structurally fragile. The characters appear to act without real motivation, so that the ballet is reduced to a series of very pretty bits of dance. There are just too many similarities to the original story to fully undestand the signals that are supposed to indicate that the first few scenes are actually completely different.

Overall, though, this is a thorough treat. It has great bits of classical ballet, superb dance performances, a stunning set by Gary Harris, evocative (if somewhat crepuscular) lighting by George Thomson, excellently portrayed characters and a real emotional tug. Just so long as you read the synopsis first.

Running time 2 hrs including interval
Run ends Saturday 11 January 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Thurs and Sat 2 pm
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tickets from www.edtheatres.com

Eve Mutso and Constant Vigier in Christopher Hampson’s Hansel & Gretel. Photograph by Andy Ross

Eve Mutso and Constant Vigier in Christopher Hampson’s Hansel & Gretel. Photo: Andy Ross

Hansel & Gretel on Tour:

15 – 18 Jan 2014 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
22 – 25 Jan 2014 Inverness
Eden Court Theatre
01463 234 234 Book online
29 Jan – 1 Feb 2014 Newcastle
Theatre Royal
08448 11 21 21 Book online
5 – 8 Feb 2014 Belfast
Grand Opera House
02890 241919 Book online

ENDS

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