Arts Review: Hansel & Gretel

Dir. Christopher Hampson, Theatre Royal, 4th – 15th Jan

Everyone knows the story of Hansel & Gretel: a brother and sister abandoned in the woods, lured to the gingerbread house of a wicked witch. In an attempt to escape the witch’s cannibalistic tendencies, they shove her in an oven and let her burn to death. All things considered, it’s a fairly twisted saga – and one that really shouldn’t work as a feel-good fairy tale. But, in the hands of Scottish Ballet’s artistic director and choreographer Christopher Hampson, that’s exactly what transpires: a sparkle-infused, enchanting ballet that certainly acts as the perfect Christmas offering from Scotland’s national company.

Initially debuted in 2013, the two-hour ballet was created for the Scottish Ballet, an important reminder that not all flashy productions need be classical or old favourites. Yet, with elements drawn from the 1812 Grimm story and the 1893 Engelbert Humperdinck opera, Scottish Ballet’s reworking of the famous fairy tale is somewhat piecemeal.

In Hampson’s Hansel & Gretel, the witch of convention is reinvented as a slippery, child-stealing teacher and the protagonists’ forest-bound quest is less nasty child abuse, more a heart-warming search for missing friends – although this reincarnation could perhaps be introduced more clearly from the beginning of the ballet.

But how well does this departure really work? Although the performances of Jamiel Laurence and Constance Devernay (playing Hansel and Gretel respectively) are both stellar and brimming with entertaining character, the first act is muddled by a profusion of secondary figures – everything from pirouetting chefs to menacing ravens – stealing the spotlight from the deserving lead dancers. Maybe that’s why the second act, taking place in the immaculately designed gingerbread house of fairy tale lore, feels much stronger: it enables Laurence and Devernay to showcase their immense talent, with a solid comedic focus to lend a bit of vivacity to the otherwise grim events.

As a family-friendly Christmas treat, Hansel & Gretel certainly delivers. Fused with a festive spirit and an appealing whimsy, the ballet has a similar vibe to beloved classic The Nutcracker. But, its undoubtedly enjoyable charms aside, there’s no denying that Hansel & Gretel doesn’t quite live up to its own expectations.

[Rachel Walker]


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