Hansel & Gretel

A sparkling story of families, food and a very wicked witch!
Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Co., late 2008 - early 2009, various venues in Oxfordshire

December 5, 2008
If you want an alternative to the traditional pantomime in the run up to Christmas, then Oxfordshire Touring Theatre Company’s new production of Hansel & Gretel could be exactly what you are looking for.

The original and much-loved Grimm brothers’ tale is well known: two hungry children are abandoned in the forest by their parents, they come across a house made of gingerbread and are captured by a wicked witch who plans to fatten them up and eat them. The children dupe the witch into showing them how the oven works – then push her into it and burn her alive. It is undeniably gruesome, but kids love it. In my experience kids can tolerate any amount of cruelty to people in fiction, but if an animal gets hurt there will be tears.

Playwright Mike Kenny has given the story a new twist without losing any of its essence; the parents begin by telling it to their ungrateful and complaining children; then the family become part of the story themselves.

All the characters (there are six of them, including a giant, adorable but cowardly mouse) are played by four adults, but clever casting ensures that the actors who play the children are completely convincing.

There are quite a few songs, courtesy of an original and catchy score by composer Andrew Dodge; and the ingenious set design is by Rachana Jadhav. The set is worthy of special mention, as with what appears to be the minimum of effort, it is easily transformed from the original family home, to the forest and then to the inside of the gingerbread house; complete with smoke and the roaring oven – you can almost feel the heat coming out of it and each scene change is enhanced by some clever lighting techniques.

The children in the audience loved it, so did the adults and even though we were not asked to participate in the traditional sense (we were not asked to shout out “she’s behind you” or anything of that nature), we joined in anyway - we could not help ourselves. The other great thing is that it starts at 6pm and finishes two hours later, so it’s early enough for the young ones; although the company recommends that it best suits the over 6s.
The venues may not be big, but this is fully professional acting, singing, staging and design. I've taken nippers to productions for children by national companies that cost a lot and couldn't hold children's attention for 10 minutes. Here the hall was gripped for two hours, with an audience of ages four and upwards. Go if you can.
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