Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes was a mixed medium performance telling the story of Hansel and Gretel via performance poetry. But also with live musical accompaniment, puppetry, paper cuts, storytelling, illustrations and sound effects. Oh, and tin toys, rubber ducks, lighting effects and opera snippets. And video clips. Phew.
Set in the tall and moody hall of St. Barnabas Church, a titled projection screen shared the stage with a performance table for the puppets and a lectern for the narrator. These were flanked on either side by string and wind musicians, while at the back stood the camera rig. It was clear from the start that tonight’s performance was not going to be an ordinary affair.
Inspired by the picture book characters of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and set to commissioned poetry by Simon Armitage, the Hansel and Gretel story was given an even darker form. Set amidst a war torn country, haunted by nightmare woods and monster witches, the mood is firmly dark.
There’s no doubt that a lot of craftsmanship and skill have gone into this show. The puppets were perfectly characterful and pathetic, and were lent life and tenderness by excellently subtle puppetry. The paper cuts, projected by video, were intricate and disturbing in equal measure, managing to be beautiful and sinister all at once. The star of the show though was Adey Grummet, delivering the prose and poetry powerfully, confidently and with and perfectly timing. Clearly, a lot of talent was brought together both on and offstage.
All of which makes me sad to say to that, for me, the overall effect was less than the sum of its parts. There was just a little too much going on, with the piece as a whole being perhaps somewhat overwrought. I was distracted by the screen when I could have been watching the puppets, and then distracted by the puppets when in fact Grummet the narrator was really driving the emotion. On occasion the camera did not keep up with the action, and the occasional video clip, though in keeping with the style, slowed things down.
It should be noted though that these slightly negative feeling might all have stemmed directly from my bottom. The seats in St Barnabas are as hard as they are small, my fidgeting and restlessness might have been more to do with comfort than entertainment. Next time I will bring a cushion.