REVIEW: Hansel and Gretel – NTC, Studio, Alnwick Playhouse, Thursday, December 1 (performance for schools)
FUNNY, festive and heart-warming, Northumberland Theatre Company’s (NTC) autumn production will leave you smiling from ear to ear.
Bringing a new twist to the classic fable of Hansel and Gretel, NTC proved that they can still deliver even though the company’s future is in the balance.
It never ceases to amaze me how four actors can perform in a small space, with a handful of props, and create such fantastic productions.
Originally written by the Brothers Grimm, the German fairytale Hansel and Gretel tells the story of a brother and sister who are threatened by an evil cannibalistic old hag who wants to eat them. However, they manage to outwit her and save themselves.
But as this was an NTC show, it didn’t follow the original to the letter and, last Thursday, Mike Kenny’s adaptation proved to be a huge hit with youngsters from local schools who had the opportunity to see the production before it officially opened to the public and started its tour of the country the following day.
It opens with Hansel – played by the brilliant Louis Roberts, a regular NTC performer – and Gretel, acted by newcomer Rachel Gay, in the kitchen with their mother and father. Hungry and penniless, they sing a song about how important family is to prove that is all you need. And to add to the occasion they start to narrate the fairytale, with each of the family members taking their turn throughout the show.
Showing the typical family traits, Hansel and Gretel fight over who will start before Hansel takes the reins, beginning the fairytale.
As the youngsters go to bed, they hear their parents plotting a plan to leave them in the forest as they can no longer afford to feed them.
Hansel hatches a plan to lead them back home and they return. However, they are taken out again, much to their father’s dismay and you can feel the tension in the theatre as the mood changes. This time they don’t find their way home. Hansel’s plan to leave a trail of bread fails as birds peck at the crumbs, destroying their lifeline.
Cold and hungry, each day they search for the way out, frightened by wolves and the darkness.
But one morning, they think their day has come. A colourful bird leads them on a winding path through the forest directly to a gingerbread house. Starved, they start to lick the walls and chew the windows, only to be greeted by the purple-haired hag, who at first seems friendly and kind. They soon find out how wrong they were.
And as Hansel is locked in a cage and force-fed to make him tastier, Gretel is forced to help the old lady. Thrown into the mix is the human-sized mouse, blown up by the hag who cannot find her spell book to reverse the curse. But as the story continues, it is Gretel who comes up with not one but two ideas to free them from the forest.
Her first – to steal keys from the old woman and leave in the night – fails as the old lady wakes up and they find that all paths will lead them back.
But her second saves the day.Pretending to be nice and kind she ends up pushing the woman into the fire and blowing her up – accompanied by theatrical explosion and flame – and reversing her curses and enchantments.
And there is good news for their family too – the youngsters find the old woman’s treasure and manage to make their family rich, turning their fears into fortunes.
With songs and dances, dark moments and light-hearted fun, the show truly delivers. I went from laughing and smiling, to sitting on the edge of my seat willing them to be ok, to leaving the theatre full of happiness.
Louis and Rachel are fantastic as Hansel and Gretel. Rachel, who has joined the NTC team for the first time after graduating from its InterACT programme, characterises the typical little sister, always wanting to beat her brother and – as was my experience in childhood – winning out in the end. She was sweet and kind but bossy and sisterly to boot.
Louis – my favourite – was just great. He was the typical older brother, always thinking he knows best. He showed that his love for his sister was truly at heart, and demonstrated his funny and charismatic sides as well.
The costumes were brilliant – made of different bits of material stitched together looking like the family had to scrimp and save and re-use and recycle many times over.
Justine Adams was super as Mother – although a little wicked, her heart was in the right place. And Marvyn Dickinson’s portrayal of Father and the mouse, was top-class.
This was a perfect fairytale brought to life by the NTC cast, who obviously work tirelessly on and off the stage. Keeping the attention of hundreds of youngsters (and me for that matter) is not an easy thing to do, but these four manage to do so seemingly effortlessly.
It is productions like this that make you realise what a fantastic job this theatre company does and gives true and proper justification for the grants it should receive. Hopefully, this will not be the last autumn production we see from this group.
My only criticism would be that it didn’t last long enough. It made me want more and to go back again and again – that’s a sign of true professionalism and success.
Hansel – Louis Roberts
Gretel – Rachel Gay
Mother/Witch – Justine Adams
Father/mouse – Marvyn Dickinson
Tonight: Whalton Village Hall, Whalton, 6.30pm
Dec 9: Lowick CofE First School, Lowick, 6pm
Dec 20: Dinnington Village Hall, Dinnington (Tyne & Wear), 7pm
Dec 22: Wall Village Hall, 6.30pm
Dec 23: Capheaton Village Hall, 6.30pm
Dec 24: Capheaton Village Hall, 1pm
Dec 29: Chatton Village Hall, Chatton, 6.30pm
Dec 30: Knott Memorial Hall, 2pm
Jan 3: Glanton Memorial Hall, 6.30pm
Jan 4: Kielder County First School, 6.30pm
Jan 5: Rothbury Middle School, 6.30pm
Jan 10: Stakeford Methodist Church, 6.30pm
Jan 11: West Woodburn Parish Hall, 6.30pm