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Hansel and Gretel (Cambridge, The Junction)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The trouble (for adults) with the Grimm brothers’ collections of fairy tales and folk stories is that they can be a bit grisly. Children, on the other hand, take minor matters like murder, infanticide and cannibalism as a given for this sort of fable. So New International Encounter (NIE) eschews the softening and baroque decoration of most versions of Hansel and Gretel and, to coin a phrase, tells it like it is.

There’s a cast of five actor-musicians and a pair of excellent puppets. We’re deep in a forest, somewhere in middle Europe (the Czech republic, perhaps) and there’s a famine (as well as a credit crunch) raging. Clutching their alter-egos (which sometimes carry the action forward), the two children outwit first their wicked stepmother and weak father and then the witch who dwells in a gingerbread house. So far, so traditional.

Alex Byrne is the director of the interval-less show which has an effective set by Stephanie Mueller, littering the stage with everyday objects as well as some fantastical ones. Musical director Carly Davis makes the most of her scenes as the witch, fox-draped and oh so initially charming to her guests.

The other players are Mia Hawk (the stepmother), Unai Lopez de Armentia (Hansel), Rew Low (the father) and Mueller (Gretel), producing some memorable moments and an assortment of haunting sounds from an accordion, double-bass, guitar and ukelale – not to mention some much less conventional instruments.


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