Hansel and Gretel takes opera to a new level
Opera North have re-vitalised and re-created Hansel and Gretel taking it to a new level that brings the opera to life for today’s audiences. It’s thought provoking, yet fun with larger-than-life characterizations, but above all it’s a masterpiece of the use of modern stage technology.
Like all The Grimm Brothers fairy tales it has a dark side and this production is no exception. There are instances of child abuse, domestic violence, deprivation and cannibalism. But, in the cold light of way, if we look at the reality of the plot, this contemporary version of the opera runs in tandem with the original fairy story and the opera is not as dark as the fairy story.
Hansel and Gretel’s mother has no money and loses her temper when she comes hope hoping to find they have completed their chores and finds them happily amusing themselves. When a jug of milk is knocked over and broken that is the last straw, as she now has no means to feed her family.
She sends them into the forest to pick berries and they are so hungry they consume the lot, get lost and its then they discover an edible house belonging to a flesh-eating witch – and the rest is fairy-tale history.
The thing that sets Edward Dick’s production apart is the eclectic mix of traditional, contemporary blended together with Humperdinck’s score so expertly by Christoph Altstaedt to perfection.
Hansel and Gretel takes place in a bare walled council tower block flat and with good reason as this provides the canvas for the amazing ethos radiated by the videography that takes us along a unique storyline.
Although the opening scene is laced with a touch of The Blair Witch Project as the two film their antics with a video camera this is just the start. Yet we are pulled back quickly to the strains of what most of us must have sung in Primary School ‘Little Brother Dance with Me’.
Without ever leaving the flat the children make their way into the forest and this is where the mini trees really do turn into a forest and as they fall asleep a visit from the Sandman, who is a Mrs Merton look-a-like, takes them to the seaside chips, ketchup and all!
The second half sees them woken by the Dew Fairy dressed in vintage from top to toe using air freshner and a vintage carpet sweeper. This is the overture to the witch who appears in a leopard skin coat, dark glasses and some very smart clothing and although if you think about her words they are scary she is not – mum’s take heart younger members of the audience will actually love her!
The effect of the witch’s house is totally mind blowing – a stage full of colour and bars of chocolate and sweet wrappers reflected on just about everywhere with a gigantic fridge and of course a large oven so the witch an get her just desserts!
But its the final scene that gives food for thought as parents and children enjoy Christmas together. Were the two kids pretending to be in a make believe flat with their video camera making some kind of a horror movie? Did the plot develop in a figment of their imagination? Did this really happen?
However the final scene after the witch is killed is apparently parents being re-united with their dead children according to the synopsis. Personally I still stick by the former in this contemporary version’s case.
Once again Opera North have assembled a fine cast. Katie Bray and Fflur Wyn are mischievous and believable whilst Rachel J Mosley’s Sandman, who resembles your favourite aunt – glasses and print dress an all has expressions that are pure gold and Amy Freston’s, Dew Fairy is so beautifully over the top.
Stephen Gadd’s, Peter the father who returns home worse for drink, happy yet with just a hint of domestic violence is excellent.
But its Susan Bullock who steals the evening with her portrayal of the down-trodden wife who bullies her children, dreads her husband returning and who can’t feed her family and who then appears as the Witch.
Bullock’s change is a triumph in the making. Like a character from Ab Fab complete with clothes to match she is vile and menacing but at the same time comedic and the villain you love to hate.
Hansel and Gretel is the perfect opportunity to introduce an audience of all ages to opera. It casts away the mantle of fuddy duddy mothballed productions – which are long since gone. This opera is pure and utter magical fun.
Hansel and Gretal is part of Opera North’s Fairy Tale Season currently running at The Grand Theatre.
Tickets avaialble from: https://www.operanorth.co.uk/productions/hansel-and-gretel