This multistrand tale, full of familiar fictional characters, is fleet-footed, big-hearted and spellbindingly vivid...
There’s a gingerbread house, a wicked witch and a pair of plucky siblings, but this is no pedestrian retread of the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Ciaran McConville’s adaptation, with songs by Eamonn O’Dwyer, is an epic adventure thrillingly charged with peril and darkness, and twinkling with magic. There’s even a subtle thread of politics, discreetly yet insistently connecting its fantastical world with our own.
Rosie Jones’s entrancing production, in the tradition of seasonal shows at this address, is performed by members of the Rose Youth Theatre alongside professional actors. It’s fleet-footed, big-hearted and spellbindingly vivid, every corner crammed with colourful detail.
Adam Wiltshire’s set presents a giant book in a murky woodland glade, where fairies come to play. Heaving open the enormous leatherbound cover, these sprites become narrators of the multistrand tale that bursts from the pages, in which plotlines intersect and familiar fictional characters wander into each other’s stories. Clever Gretel and her wisecracking little brother, Hansel (Amelie Abbott and Cillian Frisby at the performance I saw), are orphans abandoned in the forest on the orders of a corrupt mayor in a famine-stricken country.
Along their journey towards happy-ever-after they encounter the destitute and starving, as well as a bear, a monstrous wolf and a flock of malevolent ravens — hench-birds to the flame-haired, power-crazed sorceress Circe. They find support from a courageous band of resistance fighters, among them a tough-talking Red Riding Hood who’s a crack shot with her bow and arrow, and Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel, rebel heroines all hungry for justice.
The betrayal of youth by governing authority has a faintly Brexity feel, and there’s a feminist flavour to the drama, not least in the dream-sequence appearances by the children’s mother, an old adversary of Circe whose wisdom and insight saw her too labelled a witch. Yet it’s never over-earnest, and O’Dwyer’s music helps to propel the action at a brisk lick, its lively melodies tipping a cheeky wink to Prokofiev’s Troika as well as Sondheim’s fairytale musical Into the Woods. This is a layered and sophisticated family show, presented with wit, warmth and brio. Gorgeous.
By Sam Marlowe