Hansel & Gretel and More Tales (Williamson Park, Lancaster)

Magical and rivals any Regent’s Park production, says Michael Nunn of ”Hansel and Gretel and More Tales.”

Hansel & Gretel and More Tales from the Forest is this year’s ‘Play in the Park’, and is the latest in a distinguished line of 27 years of outdoor the theatre shows in the glorious setting of Lancaster’s Williamson Park.

Hansel & Gretel and More Tales
Hansel & Gretel and More Tales
© The Dukes

Written by local writer Zosia Wand, it tells the well known story of the young brother and sister Hansel and Gretel, abandoned by their wicked step-mother, who travel on a voyage of discovery to reunite themselves with their father and reclaim their idyllic lives.

But there’s a lot more to their story than that. Wand has ingeniously and artfully interpolated characters and elements from a whole host of other fairy tales, creating a magical woodland world that sits so naturally amidst the various choices of setting in the expansive and varied landscapes of Williamson Park.

There are some superb performances from the cast of seven, with some clever doubling, under Joe Sumson’s imaginative direction. Joshua Miles and Jessica Baglow in the title roles are nicely innocent, but feisty and determined on their adventurous journey.

Such a fictional or allegorical quest is rarely without complications or danger; on their way they encountered such exotic characters as The deliciously louche Witch (Polly Lister), Sydney the refined Swan (Gareth Cassidy), Puss the enigmatic Cat (Ella Vale), an outrageous Hero the Frog (Shelley Atkinson) and a suave Heinz the Wolf (Guy Hargreaves).

Keiran Buckeridge contributed some fine, atmospheric lyrics and music, which displayed not a little debt to Stephen Sondheim and the cabaret tradition. Alison Heffernan’s designs made fine use of the natural and physical features of the topography, with some subtle and extravagant additions which perfectly complemented Wand’s bucolic, sylvan narrative. Discreet and evocative lighting and sound were designed by Brent Lees.

The audience, on the night we went, featured plenty of children who were spellbound throughout – if only adult theatre-goers were as consistently well-behaved! We followed Hansel & Gretel’s emotional and spiritual trek round the five separate scene locations over two-and-a-half hours, liberally spiced with physical, visual and audible tricks as well as treats.

And the sight of the setting sun burnishing the River Lune and Morecambe Bay during the interval just added to the overall magic.

Williamson Park has often been described as the star of the shows it hosts. But with a first-rate cast, Zosia Wand’s wonderfully imaginative text, the triumph of the evening was a combination of all these things.

Forget London’s Regent’s Park open-air shows; this has to be the best outdoor theatre experience in the land.

Hansel & Gretel and More Tales runs 6 August 2014.