Posts tagged ‘fiona mountford’

12 September, 2010

Punk Rock (2010)

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock

Edward Franklin and Katie West in Punk Rock. Image courtesy of Amy Belson (Press Manager, Lyric Hammersmith)

Lyric Hammersmith, 6 – 18 September (then touring)

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

If you missed Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock this time last year, now’s your chance to make good. Despite only three of the original cast having survived to join this touring production, in most important respects it’s a facsimile of the premiere.

This is not an unequivocally good thing. While ultimately rewarding, Punk Rock is a slow starter. Until the interval, little happens besides a bunch of Stockport sixth-formers chatting in the library. What’s said is often insightful, sometimes suprising, and undaunted by big themes, but offers few clues about where the play might be headed. This is intentional, but potentially makes for a meandering, purposeless first half. The original production didn’t surmount this issue, and this one, being a near-perfect recreation, doesn’t either.

By the interval, enough tension has accumulated to tauten the sails and drive the play to its heart-thumping conclusion. A large portion of that tension is attributable to Bennett Francis, the bully whose faux-congenial humiliation games seem calculated to incubate retaliatory action.

Bennett’s is the only noticeably altered portrayal. In 2009, Henry Lloyd-Hughes lent the character a genuine affability that suggested he believed his own bullshit, that to him his victimisation of poor awkward genius Chadwick Meade really was just horseplay. With a sneering Edward Franklin in the blazer instead, Bennett is intentionally spiteful rather than monstrously insensitive; his villainy is a little more clear-cut, which peels an onionskin-thin layer of nuance away from the deliberately unfathomable climax.

Written by Simon Stephens

Crew includes Sarah Frankcom (director), Paul Wills (designer), Philip Gladwell (lighting designer), Pete Rice (sound designer) and Kate Waters (fight director)

Cast includes Nicholas Banks (Nicholas Chatman), Edward Franklin (Bennett Francis), Ruth Milne (Cissy Franks), Mike Noble (Chadwick Meade), Laura Pyper (Lily Cahill), Rupert Simonian (William Carlisle), Katie West (Tanya Gleason), Simon Wolfe (Dr Richard Harvey), Juliet York (Lucy Francis)

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27 August, 2010

Sub Rosa ****

Hill Street Theatre, 5 – 30 August 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

There’s an interesting push-me-pull-you effect going on between Sub Rosa and the Masonic lodge in which it’s staged. The building’s warren-like layout and Masonic décor naturally occasion a kind of superstitious reverence over and above what the play alone can evoke. Meanwhile, the production imposes its own, slightly broader brand of eerie, haunted-house ambience on the place.

The production – initially framed as an educational guided tour – takes place after dark, and the building is dimly lit. The geometric carvings of the Masons are picked out in sinister reds and lilacs, as is the backstage apparatus of the theatre: reminding us we’re backstage, after hours, seeing things normally kept out of the public eye.

Tours leave every ten minutes, so each group is never more than one room away from the next, but the layout of the building is such that with precise stage management, the groups can be completely concealed from each other. Creaking footsteps and hushed voices, just out of earshot, feel like an intentional part of the production.

But even once it’s taken full advantage of everything the site has to offer, the production still has to make impositions in order to evoke its desired Gothic atmosphere. Hidden speakers pipe in creepy rumblings and the crackle of flames. Once space is flooded with fog. A stuffed fox leers, spotlit, from a baluster, apropos of absolutely nothing. To achieve its goals, the production engages and cooperates with this specific site up to a certain point, then, perhaps faced with a shortfall of spookiness, turns to more generic techniques that could create the same effect in any building.

Probably not coincidentally, deliberately appearing to be something you’re not is a major theme of the play. Six ghosts stationed around the building recount the tale of the Winter Palace music hall and the power struggle between its manager, Mr Hunter (a Mason) and the newest chorus girl, Flora – and it isn’t a tale for the easily-made-queasy. Nothing is reenacted, only narrated, but David Leddy’s writing and the six actors’ intense performances are graphic and distressing enough to leave more sensitive patrons bent double deep-breathing on the stairs between scenes.

It is, however, neither exploitative nor gratuitous in its brutality. The script is poetic, and every word and image – even or perhaps especially the gruesome ones – is included in the service of the story, not to cause cheap shocks.

Written by David Leddy

Crew includes David Leddy (director), Nich Smith (lighting design) and Graham Sutherland (sound design)

Cast includes Angela Darcy (Millie Merkeley), Claire Dargo (Ida McCracken), Isabella Jarrett (Miss Thorn), Isabelle Joss (Dillie Merkeley), Adam McNamara (Svaty Václav) and Benny Young (Angus MacNeil)

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10 April, 2010

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

Ricky Fearon and Ricky Copp in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train

Ricky Fearon and Ricky Copp in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train. Image by Keith Pattison

Trafalgar Studios, 8 – 24 April 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Angel knows putting an educational bullet in a man’s backside isn’t the same as attempted murder. Lucius has found Jesus, and is busy atoning for multiple homicide through prayer. For Mary Jane, successfully defending a (technically) guilty man is a thrill she can’t do without. And Officer Valdez sleeps sound at night knowing his charges had their chances and blew ’em, so anything he does to them is a consequence of their own actions.

Every character in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train is at peace with who they are and the things they’ve done. This isn’t how prison dramas begin; it’s where they typically end.

This, then, is not a journey of redemption in the Hollywood sense. Practically the opposite, in fact. The characters – two inmates, one Puerto Rican one African-American, two guards and a lawyer, all white – spend the play chipping away at each other’s ivory towers, eventually leaving them all defenceless, divested of their comfortable rationalisations.

The implication is an uncomfortable one: that there may be some acts, some decisions, that we shouldn’t be allowed the luxury of coming to amicable terms with.

Because Stephen Adly Guirgis invests every one of his characters with the necessary wit to systematically dismantle the others’ worldviews, the dialogue – and it’s a dialogue-heavy play and no mistake – crackles like regiments exchanging salvos. As befits that martial aspect it’s riddled with profanity; but it’s also eloquent and lyrical. Lucius (Ricky Fearon) in particular sways with the compelling vocal cadences of a proselytising preacher.

In his mouth – and in Angel’s stuttering one, and through Mary Jane’s clipped, honest phrasing – the play’s philosophy, however uncomfortable to contemplate, sounds like the only one that makes the slightest sense.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Crew includes Esther Baker (director) and Katy McPhee (set designer)

Cast includes Ricky Copp (D’Amico), Ricky Fearon (Lucius Jenkins), Denise Gough (Mary Jane Hanrahan), Theo Jones (Angel Cruz) and Dominic Taylor (Valdez)

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22 January, 2010


Theatre 503, 19 – 23 January 2010

Reviewed for The Collective Review

What do you remember about the Noughties? (Yes, it turns out that is what we’re calling them.) Theatre503 asked that question to ten playwrights – five established, five as-yet unproduced – and the result is Decade, a collection of ten ten-minute plays, each one representing a single year. So what do the Decade writers remember about the Noughties?

First and foremost, they remember global catastrophes. Summing up a whole year in ten minutes of drama is a tall order, of course, so most of the ten focus on one or two iconic events – and it seems most of the iconic events of the Noughties were disasters. The Millennium Bug (okay – only a potential disaster), 9/11, the war in Iraq, the Christmas tsunami of 2004, Guantanamo Bay and the election of BNP MEPs all feature.

This could be because, as we’re often told, Conflict Is The Essence Of Drama. Alternatively, this could be how we’re fated to remember the last decade: as one disaster after another.

It was also a decade dominated by the USA, and American accents permeate Decade. Behind his vacant stare, President George Dubya Bush is dancing inside, in Beth Steel’s surreal 2001. Nimer Rashed personifies the post-9/11 USA as a seductive, manipulative but brutally wronged neighbour. In Richard Marsh’s 2007, two Guantanamo guards find themselves in thrall to an inmate’s superior knowledge of the final Harry Potter book.

Surprisingly, despite suspicion of Muslims and Middle Eastern peoples dictating many powerful countries’ foreign policy, and despite the landmark election of the USA’s first black President, race is hardly touched upon. Marsh’s inmate Khaliq (Sartaj Garewal) comments briefly on the consequences of assuming certain people are all the same, but it’s left to Rex Obano to tackle race single-handedly in 2009 – a task he accomplishes defiantly, though not without the odd flop in onstage energy.

The quality of the writing is consistently high enough that, without the programme, it’s difficult to distinguish the seasoned pros from the unknowns. Newcomer Nimer Rashed struggles to find an original angle on 9/11, but still outdoes Market Boy writer David Eldridge’s limp offering (though Eldridge’s scene isn’t helped by weak, overly static direction from Gene David Kirk). Amy Rosenthal and April de Angelis both deliver strong, pacey, dialogue-driven contributions, but so too does the unproduced Richard Marsh. Beth Steel delivers more meaning via her surrealism than Phil Porter’s weird, overwrought piece.

The finished product – cemented together with period pop music and news headlines – is a dreamlike reassemblage of half-faded memories. Not a complete picture of the decade by any means, but a more potent epitaph by far than the kind of bland, Jimmy-Carr-hosted nostalgia thrown together for TV.

Written by April de Angelis, David Eldridge, Fraser Grace, Richard Marsh, Rex Obano, Phil Porter, Lou Ramsden, Nimer Rashed, Amy Rosenthal and Beth Steel

Crew includes Jessica Beck, Anthony Biggs, Gemma Farlie, Antonio Ferrara, Steve Harper, Gene David Kirk, Tim Roseman and Charlotte Westenra (directors)

Cast includes Victoria Bavister, Phil Brodie, Jamie de Courcey, Sartaj Garewal, Vincent Jerome, Jamal Noland and Henry Steele

Need a second opinion?

24 September, 2009

Mother Courage and Her Children

National Theatre, 16 September – 8 December 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

The prospect of staging Brecht’s work on the Olivier Stage is similar to the prospect of flying an aeroplane backwards. Though in theory the vehicle is a tool designed to go where you tell it to, in practice there are certain manoeuvres it’s structurally unsuited to perform.

Brecht dictated that his plays be staged with no frills. But any director given the run of the Olivier can be forgiven for wanting to actually use the facilities on offer. It isn’t yielding to temptation, it’s making the most of a rare opportunity.

Like a glass-panelled clock, Deborah Warner’s Mother Courage and Her Children doesn’t just choose not to conceal its inner workings, it displays them, inviting the audience to marvel at the way the pieces fit together. During one musical number Courage (Fiona Shaw) drags an ASM, already quite visible at the edge of one wing, fully onto the stage, where she dances briefly with the announcer (who also dances little jigs in the scene changes), and during the interval the second act’s placards fly in and out, in and out, as if the winches are being tested.

Not trusting the audience to be satisfied with the real backstage goings-on of a National Theatre production, Warner treats us to a self-conscious, theatricalised version of them. What we see is more bustling and disorganised than backstage in any theatre I’ve worked in; a theatre workers’ self-portrait that magnifies every insignificant pimple.

Revealing the production’s nuts and bolts works as Brecht intended, removing the emotional smokescreen that prevents critical engagement with the play; but theatricalising and calling attention to the backstage business just replaces the smokescreen with blinkers, creating a parallel drama that competes with the more important one centre stage.

Written by Beltolt Brecht (translated by Tony Kushner)

Crew includes Deborah Warner (director), Duke Special (songs) and Mel Mercier (musicscape)

Cast includes Stephen Kennedy (The Chaplain) Martin Marquez (The Cook), Harry Melling (Swiss Cheese), Charlotte Randle (Yvette), Clifford Samuel (Eilif), Fiona Shaw (Mother Courage) and Sophie Stone (Kattrin)

Need a second opinion?

18 July, 2009

The Ultimate Critics’ Pick of the Fringe 2009 – part 2

Written for The Collective Review, 17 July 2009

Previously on The Ultimate Critics’ Pick of the Fringe 2009:

The 13 most anticipated shows of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as collectively selected by five major newspapers and magazines, are: Barflies, Beachy Head, A British Subject, The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, Morecambe, Palace of the End, Sea Wall, Suckerville and The World’s Wife, with two votes each; Blondes, Orphans and Theatre for Breakfast, with three votes each; and the most hyped show in the lead-up to August, with four out of five possible votes, is The Girls of Slender Means.

What it all means

The Scotsman’s Andrew Eaton has it right when he says, “these are all pretty safe bets”.  The shortlist is awash with big names, including Fringe First Award winner Daniel Kitson (The Interminable Suicide…), Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy (The World’s Wife), Olivier Award winning playwright Simon Stephens (Sea Wall), famed Scottish novelist Muriel Spark (The Girls…) and celebrity Denise van Outen (Blondes), all of whom are guaranteed to put bums on seats.

It would be easy to construe this as evidence of conservative taste in the mainstream media – especially as the articles claim to list the best shows in the festival, not the ones that will probably do well at the box office.

In actual fact, the shortlist only shows up one paper as unadventurous.  Most of the individual articles list some surefire hits alongside some more radical choices – an attempt to show experimental Fringe spirit while still correctly predicting this year’s biggest shows, deflecting accusations of fuddidudditude on the one hand and poor knowledge of the industry on the other.  A radical choice wouldn’t be radical if another paper tipped it too, so none of the radical choices made it to the shortlist.

The Evening Standard’s Fiona Mountford, however, didn’t make any radical choices.  Not only that, but she’s the only list-maker not to have tipped The Girls of Slender Means.  Her list manages to be composed entirely of safe bets while failing to include the safest bet of them all.

The figures suggest Andrew Eaton occupies the opposite end of the conservative–radical spectrum:  72% of his picks fall outside the shortlist.  Eaton’s achieved this apparent breadth of taste by playing the law of averages.  By recommending a whopping 46 shows, he guarantees that he and his paper will appear both foresighted (all 13 shows on the shortlist appear on Eaton’s list, practically assuring that he’s backed at least a couple of winners) and appreciative of a wide range of styles (his list can’t fail to contain shows no other paper has included on their own, much shorter, lists).

In fact, by hedging his bets this way, all Eaton has ensured is that this year’s other list-makers appear to have more confidence in their own judgement than he does.

To be continued…

In my next post, I’ll explain why pre-Festival list-making is a fruitless exercise in journalistic masturbation (conveniently excusing myself from having not written one).

13 July, 2009

The Ultimate Critics’ Pick of the Fringe 2009 – part 1

Written for The Collective Review, 13 July 2009

The 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe Official Programme has been available for about a month now.  All the influential voices in theatre criticism have had plenty of time to comb through it and produce lists of recommendations.  By analysing all these lists together, I’ve discovered this year’s Ultimate Critics’ Pick of the Fringe.

The Times, the Guardian, the London Evening Standard, the Scotsman and The List (the Scottish equivalent of Time Out) have all published lists of varying lengths.  I couldn’t find lists from the Independent, the Telegraph, the Financial Times or the Mail; if you know of any that are available online, please post a link in the comments!

The Numbers Game

If you strip down the lists to only include shows that belong in the Theatre section of the programme, then the Times nominates 11 shows, the Guardian five, the Evening Standard five, the Scotsman 46 and The List six.  If you cross-reference the stripped-down lists and look only at shows nominated by more than one publication, you get a shortlist of the 13 most hyped shows in the run-up to 2009’s Fringe.

Nine of the 13 get two nominations.  Three get three.  Just one production in the entire Theatre section of this year’s programme gets the nod from four out of five lists.  Not one comes recommended by all five.

Six of the Times’s 11 picks make it into the shortlist, along with three of the Guardian’s five, 13 of the Scotsman’s 46 and four of The List’s six.  All five of the Evening Standard’s recommendations are in the shortlist, which means the Standard’s Fiona Mountford hasn’t picked a single show not also nominated by at least one other paper.

The Shortlist

Shows nominated twice
Beachy Head
A British Subject
The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church
Palace of the End
Sea Wall
The World’s Wife

Shows nominated thrice
The World is Too Much: Theatre for Breakfast

And with four nominations, the Ultimate Critics’ Pick of the Fringe – the number one most hyped show of 2009 – is:
The Girls of Slender Means

To be continued…

In my next post, I’ll reveal what these figures say about this year’s Fringe, and about the list-makers themselves.

8 May, 2009

The Contingency Plan

Bush Theatre, 22 April – 6 June 2009

Reviewed for the London Theatre Blog

If anthropogenic climate change is the greatest challenge currently facing mankind, then right now Steve Waters’ The Contingency Plan at the Bush Theatre is the most important artwork in the country.

Either individually or combined, On the Beach and Resilience – the independent but complementary constituent plays of Waters’ double bill – trumpet an uncompromising challenge to conventional, optimistic projections regarding the results of our effect on the climate.

In On the Beach, glaciologist Will Paxton (Geoffrey Streatfeild) returns home to Norfolk after an extended stint in Antarctica, to present his new girlfriend Sarika (Stephanie Street) to his parents, and to confront his reclusive father Robin (Robin Soans), who gave up glaciology two decades ago to observe sea birds on the salt marshes.

In Resilience, Sarika likewise presents Will to the Ministry for Climate Change, where he faces off against Colin (also Robin Soans), the colleague that discredited his father, in an attempt to convince the new Conservative government to legislate according to his own radically pessimistic predictions of coastal flooding in Britain.

If you can see both (highly recommended), see On the Beach first. If you can’t, see Resilience: though its focus is squarely on the policy makers and not those affected first hand by the crisis, it contains not only the best laughs (mostly courtesy of David Bark-Jones’ dangerously clueless Minister), but also the most important science.

Will’s solution is that there is no solution; there’s nothing left to do but retreat inland and abandon the coast to the North Sea. Before Resilience’s interval he reels off a list of draconian-sounding measures, including compulsory purchase and demolition of non-carbon neutral homes. Waters and his agent are adamant that the science used in the play is sound and rigorously up to date.

Downers don’t come much bigger, but neither play ever ceases to entertain, even when Soans’ characters show their similarities by breaking out the visual aids. Hard science and the accompanying pessimism are counterbalanced by dramatic flair in both the text and the performances. While the big issue naturally and rightly dominates, Will’s relationship with his father gets nearly as much exposure; and Street, along with Susan Brown as both Will’s mother and Tessa, Minister for Resilience, fly the flag for women finding footholds in predominantly male arenas. Soans’ portrayal of two similar but distinct obsessives, one comical, one eventually somewhat sinister, particularly stands out.

The only ray of hope in Waters’ predicted stormfront is that both plays are set a few years in the future. If the science is as solid as he claims, we can only hope the policy makers don’t greet him as Chris greets Will – at first jovially, then later bitterly, as “Nostradamus”.

Written by Steve Waters

Crew includes Tamara Harvey (director, Resilience), Michael Longhurst (director, On the Beach), Tom Scutt (designer), Oliver Fenwick (lighting designer) and Emma Laxton (sound designer)

Cast includes David Bark-Jones (Chris), Susan Brown (Jenny in On the Beach/Tessa in Resilience), Robin Soans (Robin in On the Beach/Colin in Resilience), Geoffrey Streatfeild (Will) and Stephanie Street (Sarika)

Need a second opinion?

6 March, 2009

The New Electric Ballroom

Riverside Studios, 3 – 29 March 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

The women of Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom are like Chekhov’s Three Sisters without a Moscow to dream of. The only worthwhile pastime in their stagnant Irish harbour town is reliving the past – which only perpetuates the cycle of stagnation.

Now, I got tired of plays about the futile repetitiveness of life when Chekhov was still writing them, eighty or ninety years before I was born. But Walsh manages somehow to present an uncompromisingly bleak worldview without making his audience want to die, and that’s a praiseworthy feat.

The women (two of them, Breda and Clara, are sisters; the third, Ada, could be a daughter, younger sister or houseguest) live in an inhospitable fish-house designed by Sabina Dargeant. The aluminium door rumbles and clangs, the floor is stone with a moss-infested gutter, and even inside it’s misty with cold.

They are creatures of repetition and routine. Ada encourages and directs as the old sisters endlessly play-act the loss of their innocence, years ago at the New Electric Ballroom. Through ritual repetition, the sisters worry at the perceived root of their miserable lives, and impress upon Ada the woe that awaits should she venture outside the chilly house in search of love.

In so many similarly-themed plays, the cycle of suffering rolls over the audience like a steamroller and slowly crushes out their will to live. But The New Electric Ballroom is funny, and filthy, and above all, fast-paced.

Walsh’s script is so rich with glorious imagery, smut and invective that most of it has to be delivered with the speed and chatter of an express train. Colourful characters, surreal situations and casually damning comments on the personal hygiene or physical deformities of the townsfolk all zip past the window with barely a pause for breath.

Domestic discussions balance the breakneck pace of the monologues. Bookended by pregnant pauses and delivered with tremendous gravity, the most banal utterances (“May I have some tea to wash this biscuit down?”) take on a ponderous portentousness.

This is not a piece of Naturalism. People do not talk this way in real life. But this is a play about stories, labels, talk; in a word, words, and Walsh’s heightened, poetic writing calls attention to them.

People don’t act this way, either. What little action is permitted to distract attention from the dialogue is so loaded with symbolism the women seem cowed under its weight.

The best moment comes when they finally upgrade fishmonger Patrick from regular but necessary intruder to welcome houseguest. Before he can say “milk, no sugar,” he’s stripped, hosed down and scrubbed pink to clean off all the labels (“lumpen, ugly, fishy”) attached to him by the townsfolk.

When it comes to Ada – desperate to escape but limited in her experiences to second-hand heartbreak inherited from her companions – Walsh’s direction is more ambiguous, or perhaps confusing. She’s stiff, round-shouldered, often gazing or clutching ineffectually toward the middle distance.

It could be representative of her sheltered existence, but the effect often veers uncomfortably close to declamatory melodrama.

Not one of the characters will ever escape the shadow of the New Electric Ballroom; they’re all doomed to repeat their greatest regrets for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, we can all have tremendous fun laughing along and feeling unutterably glad we aren’t them.

Written by Enda Walsh

Crew includes Enda Walsh (director) and Sabine Dargeant (design)

Cast includes Rosaleen Linehan, Ruth McCabe, Mikel Murfi and Catherine Walsh

Need a second opinion?

4 December, 2008

Hansel and Gretel

Barbican, 1 December 2008 – 4 January 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

How do you get a hundred hyperactive schoolchildren to sit still and shut up through seventy minutes of theatre? Trick question: it’s impossible. Catherine Wheels Theatre Company accept that a young audience is going to fidget, so they’ve built it into their show.

The show in question is a promenade production of classic Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel at the Barbican over Christmas. Promenade may well be the ideal format for children’s theatre. It keeps the audience moving, eliminating the fidgeting problem, and provides a constantly changing spectacle to keep them entertained.

The school parties certainly never seem bored or restless as friendly ushers guide them from Hansel and Gretel’s woodland bungalow, through a spooky and increasingly macabre forest to the gingerbread house.

Of course everyone knows the welcoming appearance of the house is a deception, but it’s still easy to empathise with Hansel and Gretel’s clueless relief after fifteen minutes spent wandering through designer Karen Tennent’s forest.

The trees are shadowy, insubstantial outlines – suggested by stretched tubes of gauze, lit from within by coldly twinkling fairy lights and uncomfortably reminiscent of enormous cobwebs.

As a warped version of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic lures the children onwards, the imagery becomes increasingly unsettling, at least for the adults in the audience. The bones piled in the corners aren’t nearly as disturbing as tableaux of children’s dolls – babies and Barbies – stripped, limbs contorted, and hung in chains from the ceiling.

Traditional Grimm’s horror is much more fashionable right now than supposedly child-friendly versions of their tales – and the children don’t seem fazed by it, swaggering through the groves and proudly assuring one another they aren’t scared at all.

Once we escape the forest into the apparent safety of the gingerbread house we find the production’s other great asset: the witch.

The usual witch was ill when I saw the production, and had been replaced by the Catherine Wheels’ artistic director Gill Robertson. Once she recovers, poor Helena Lymbery (and Cassie Friend, with whom she alternates the part) needs to deliver something truly stunning, or she runs the risk of being upstaged by a (presumably) last minute stand-in.

The production makes extensive use of physical clowning, to tell the story in a way that’s simple to understand, to explain motivation and intent, and to lighten the tone.

The same techniques make Robertson’s witch a feral creature of the forest. Dressed in dark leaves, she moves in an ape-like half crouch and beds down in a pile of furs like a sleepy cat. Her speech is a mixture of childlike mewling and bellowed, guttural commands.

The production focuses on Hansel and Gretel’s responsibility for one another in the absence of a reliable parent. Hansel, the eldest and the male sibling, protects his sister from the nasties lurking in the forest; once he’s caught and caged, it falls to Gretel to return the favour.

It’s made clear just how quickly she has to mature in this difficult situation. She’s forced to deal with a physically and vocally intimidating witch and to cook the very food that will fatten her brother for the kill, all while keeping him from falling into despair.

Yet despite all that pressure it’s her ingenuity that eventually saves them both. It’s not only the horror that’s grown-up; the moral lesson inherent to the fairy tale is also dealt with in a grown-up way. Precisely because it doesn’t treat its audience like children, Hansel and Gretel may be the perfect children’s show.

Written by Catherine Wheels Theatre Company

Crew includes Gill Robertson (artistic director) and Karen Tennent (designer)

Cast includes Susan Harrison (Gretel), Tommy Mullins (Hansel) and Gill Robertson (the Witch – replacing Helena Lymbery due to illness)

Need a second opinion?