HANSEL AND GRETEL
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 7th May, 2015
This new version comes to the Belgrade courtesy of HighTime Opera company, a small-scale outfit whose mission is to bring opera to everyone and not just the elite few. With this production, they make a giant stride towards that commendable aim.
Adelheld Wette’s libretto translates the action from the traditional gingerbread cottage in the woods to a circus tent in a rubbish tip, swapping the Witch for an evil ringmaster. The grubby, big top setting (designed by Richard Evans) works for the most part, due to its built-in theatricality but I will own up to trepidation when a trio of clowns, (old-school Pierrot faces) perform in dumb show during the overture. The show is in danger here of becoming twee – these fears are dispelled as soon as the story gets going and the singing begins.
The new translation uses contemporary slang and modern-day references (television, Pukka pies…) to humorous effect, the witty rhymes a good fit for Humperdinck’s melodic score.
Alexa Mason is a magnificent Gretel, physically presenting a little girl and all her caprices and vocally one of the clearest I have ever heard. Sian Cameron is brother Hansel, all chavvy in hooded top and trackie bottoms. Both performers capture the childishness of the eponymous siblings – director Felicity Green gives them oodles of business. The stage is never static.
Wendy Dawn Thompson is their hard-nosed, hard-working (and yet trapped in poverty) mother, with a plaintive edge to her singing, while their father, a swaggering and affable Jon Stainsby is all optimism and tra-la-la. The contrast is highly effective.
There is a pleasing appearance by Caroline Kennedy as the Keeper of Birds and Charlotte Ireland impresses as a Magician. As the villainous, camp and cannibalistic Ringmaster, Oliver Marshall’s characterisation is delicious and I am sure his voice will develop more power as he gains experience.
The cast is augmented by a throng of local children who are incorporated into the action, singing sweetly and trying their best. Strange to see a story in which children run away from the circus! But it is important to expose youngsters to this art form before any cultural preconceptions and prejudices set in, if opera is to be accessible to all.
Engelbert Humperdinck’s richly coloured score is served well, stripped down to a piano arrangement. Special mention must go to pianist Richard Black for his flawless, nuanced playing. Conductor Benjamin Hamilton keeps the whole thing ticking along, managing the timing of the action seamlessly with the tempo.
It’s an amusing take on the traditional tale (it’s more Roald Dahl than Brothers Grimm) and goes to demonstrate how small-scale productions can work extremely well, given an appropriate choice of material. This kind of treatment would suit something like Cosi fan tutte very nicely – but not so much Gotterdammerung!
Sibling ribaldry. (Photo: Peter Marsh @ashmorevisuals )
1 Comment | tags: Adelheld Wette, Alexa Mason, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Benjamin Hamilton, Brothers Grimm, Caroline Kennedy, Charlotte Ireland, Engelbert Humperdinck, Felicity Green, Hansel and Gretel, HighTime Opera, Jon Stainsby, Oliver Marshall, opera, review, Richard Black, Richard Evans, Sian Cameron, Wendy Dawn Thompson | posted in Opera review
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 29th May, 2014
Ivan Williamson’s new adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story does not skimp on adventure and incident. The cast of just five work hard to populate the stage with a host of characters – For the most part this works very well; there are just a couple of times when additional hats and/or wigs would have come in handy.
Narrated by a grown-up David Balfour (Jamie Laird, commanding our attention) we see his younger self thrust into a world of treachery, betrayal and derring-do, through which he has to find his way and discover his own courage and strength of character. Director Anna Fox employs a range of theatrical techniques to support the actors in their storytelling. For example, there is a graceful sequence of physical theatre when Davie is shipwrecked and has to swim his way to the surface. Effective use is made of puppetry (thanks to consultant Alan Bird) in which objects are animated to constitute the people they represent, e.g. a ship’s wheel and coils of rope become a ferryman. It’s imaginative work and like the best narrative theatre, engages the imagination of the audience to picture what is not (or cannot) be staged.
Simon Weir is splendid as dandified Jacobite rebel Alan Breck who forges an alliance with our young hero that becomes a fast friendship. It’s not quite Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins but there is an understanding between them that is rather touching.
Strong support comes from Christopher Anderton as evil uncle Ebenezer and Lesley Cook in a range of roles including the appropriately named Ransome, who pays a terrible price. Jamie Laird nips in and out of characters and narration but it’s so well-paced you’re always clear who he is at any given moment.
As young Davie, Stewart McChene is an appealing, sympathetic and boyish protagonist. Even though we know he survives to tell the tale and grows up to be Jamie Laird, you become engrossed in his adventures and hope he comes to no harm. I was with him all the way.
Richard Evans’s set is clever and versatile but at times it seems like it could do with a bigger space in which to move.
The energy and commitment of the cast – including some rousing renditions of auld Scottish hits of centuries ago – keep us going through some of the wordier passages as the characters take sides in the fight for the hearts and minds of Scotland. Perhaps Cameron and Salmond should break into swordplay rather than holding a comparatively dull and bloodless referendum…
In safe hands: Sell a Door’s excellent production
Leave a comment | tags: Alex Bird, Anna Fox, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Christopher Anderton, Ivan WIlkinson, Jamie Laird, Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson, Lesley Cook, review, Richard Evans, Sell A Door theatre company, Simon Weir, Stewart McCheyne, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review