Review: Hansel and Gretel, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Eithne Browne as Wicked Witch in Hansel and Gretel adapted by Mike Kenny and directed by Henry Bell at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Eithne Browne as Wicked Witch in Hansel and Gretel adapted by Mike Kenny and directed by Henry Bell at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

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Short, sweet and a tad scary – that’s Mike Kenny’s adaptation of the classic fairytale Hansel and Gretel.

Two children, a boy and a girl, live with their poor parents in the forest. Their dad struggles to earn a living as a woodcutter. To save the family from starvation, mum proposes to take their children into the forest and abandon them.

So, they do. Hansel and Gretel fall into the clutches of a wicked witch who fattens up Hansel with the intention of roasting him in a very hot oven and eating him.

This is the stuff of nightmares. The very people who are supposed to care for you the most not only give up on you but leave you in a dark, scary place at the mercy of the elements and strangers.

Small wonder that the packed audience of schoolchildren did not run screaming from the place.

Though this has dark undertones, it is a Christmas show and the storytelling, which is of the highest quality, keeps the tone, if not the themes, light.

The cast of four – Peter Basham and Elinor Lawless as Hansel and Gretel, Eithne Browne, Mother and the Wicked Witch, and Jamie Chapman, Father and Giant Mouse, are superb. Lawless plays Gretel as the stroppy younger sister and gets great laughs and Chapman’s adorable mouse owes a lot to Alan Bennett’s melancholia.

Browne is the driving force – she’s bad, mad and dangerous to know as both Mother and Wicked Witch.

The four make a decent barbershop quartet in the songs, sung a cappella, by Stornoway’s Oli Steadman

Director Henry Bell keeps the story going at a cracking pace. There are not many bells and whistles in this production but it is compelling stuff – the only squeak from a packed house came from the mouse on the stage.

Except, that is when required to do the sound effects, the children – aged seven and upwards – gave full vents to howls, hoots and tweets.

Hansel and Gretel is not a pantomime in the conventional sense but it has a wicked witch, principal boy and girl and plenty of opportunity for audience participation.

At less than two hours including an interval, it is short but nevertheless a sweet treat to be enjoyed by all ages.

Performance times: Saturday December 12 – 2.30pm and 7pm; Monday December 14 – 10am; Tuesday December 15 – 10am and 1pm (relaxed performance); Wednesday December16 – 10am: Thursday December 17 10am; Friday December 18 – 7pm; Saturday December 19 – 2pm and 5pm; Monday December 21 – 2.30pm and 7pm; Tuesday December 22 – 2.30pm and 7pm; Wednesday 23 December - 2.30pm (followed by a family friendly meet the cast); Thursday December 24 – 2.30pm; Saturday; December 26 – 3pm and 6.30pm; Sunday December 27 – 3pm

Box office: Box office: 01723 370541 or www.sjt.uk.com

By Sue Wilkinson