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Hansel and Gretel - Theatre Review

The children’s fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, was popularised in the 1800’s by The Brothers Grimm. 2023 sees the classic translated into a theatre show for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. 



Christmas is the perfect time to see one of the many loved fairytales, often performed in an over-the-top style with glittering costumes and boldly coloured sets with a litany of camp songs; usually in the form of a pantomime. For many, me included, pantomimes are not their cup of tea, boasting a roster of has been soap stars, Love Islands rejects and anyone who has bothered the ‘This Morning’ couch this year. As a result of this many families are opting for an alternative family show this festive time.  

 

The much-loved story of Hansel and Gretel thankfully stuck to the original story; a boy called Hansel and his sister Gretel were raised by their father a woodcutter and their mother a bread maker. The town in which they lived was wrecked by war, the parents' solution for a safer future for their children: abandoning them in the woods! Left to navigate the wilderness alone, Hansel and Gretel veer off course thanks to an irresistible path of goodies and a quirky old lady with her own sneaky agenda. What follows is an adventure of getting back home, which the audience struggled to engage in despite the production’s best efforts.  

 

A trip to The Globe is exciting anyway, the replica of Shakespeare's original playhouse built in 1599 is a beautiful building with so much assumed history, despite opening its doors in 1997. One positive to performing children’s shows at this iconic venue is that children will better understand Elizabethan theatre; I am sure we can all remember the lessons that peasants stood on the floor and the royal families are on the top tier so they can be ‘closer to god’ - hence naming the highest tier ‘the gods’. Walking in you find a stage with a mucky old fridge, a sofa, a table, 4 tents and a washing line - if you have seen an RSC performance before, it is standard procedure - which does set the scene, but did not scream ‘family show’, more ‘gritty drama’.  

 

Around the standing room was a series of percussive instruments for children to play with, however there was no reason for these to be here as they were not used or referenced at any point in the show - Chekhov’s Gun anyone? - However, the actual band were incredible throughout, the traditional folk music was really fitting for the show. The costumes, scruffy looking coats and hats lacked the oomph to make the show appeal to children, however the tents on stage were transformed into the wings of birds, which was good.  

 

The show had some great immersive moments with fake snow, animals flying through the air and gigantic colourful sweets. The actors also used 2 roaming pieces of stage to move through the audience on their hike, which was a brilliant use of the space - it would have been a perfect use of space if it were not for the health and safety brigade needing 4 staff in bright orange jackets making sure no one was near them. The Globe is a brilliant theatre space which puts on very traditional performances, displaying the incredible talent of the actors (and the actors on that stage were all exceptional). Actors in Elizabethan theatre projected their voices through vocal techniques, not microphones, so I thought it was a little odd to bring out a microphone and speaker mid-way through the show for a loop-pedal song that added nothing to the show. 

 

I did not attend this show to hear a new story, it is at least 200 years old. I did not attend this show to see the world's greatest special FX, it is The Globe. I did however go to see something on par with the exceptional storytelling put on by the RSC each year and I have to say, sadly, I was disappointed. When I tell you that I paid £5 for the tickets and still left disappointed, it surely must hit home. It is a great excuse to get out the house and it is a fantastic experience for children to experience The Globe Theatre. However, nobody needs a 25-minute interval between two 40-minute acts, a family show should appeal to families, and the stewards need to not stand amongst the audience talking the entire way through.  

 

A sidenote about The Globe, and not about this show, it is an open-air theatre. The theatre is situated next to the river Thames, under the flight path of Heathrow Airport and does attract a lot of tourists, so tutting and grumbling because you did not hear every word an unamplified actor said is not something you should get too bogged down by. You also cannot predict the weather, bring a coat. Do not be the person complaining about being wet if you did not prepare, and do not buy standing-room tickets if your child will cry for an hour because of a drop of rain. 

 

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