Saturday 14th December 2019 at Leeds Library.
Wrongsemble continue their winning streak of Children’s theatre shows with Hansel and Gretel. Much like The Princess and the Sprout and Billy Shakes before it, this new show from writer and director Elvi Piper is cleverly constructed with an eye for fun and and delicate moral messaging, adapting a well known classic to introduce modern twists and food for thought.
It’s a familiar set-up; folks in a library end up stuck there and tuck into a classic fairytale to pass the time. They seamlessly shift from reading the story to becoming the story, announcing themselves to be Hansel, Gretel and the witch of the gingerbread house as they whizz through the story accompanied by songs (Musical Director: Claire Marie Seddon) and good humour.
But there’s a twist; the original is unsatisfying for our grumpy librarian who has doubled as our witch in a mirror image of frowning females. So we set off into the forest a second time to see a different take and in this Wrongsemble beautifully capture the age-old truth: every story has sides.
The production does extremely well up to this point and the children at the performance I saw were quite clearly enthralled, enchanted not just by the tale but also by the lively and charismatic performances filling the stage. It’s with the third and final instalment that the production stalls ever so slightly, offering a middle ground which doesn’t quite hold the same level of entertainment. It does entertain, but it feels like this show could perfectly neatly end with an epilogue on the two versions and for me, there seems little need for anything beyond that.
As ever, it’s a cracking cast under the Wrongsemble name. Hansel and Gretel are perfectly formed in each variation of the tale. Stephanie Rutherford is a bookish, sweet and very intelligent Gretel while Lawrence Hodgson-Mullings is an absolute comic delight as the skittish and unintentionally funny Hansel.
The pair really hit their stride in take two as they offer up fantastically ruthless depictions of modern youngsters; tech-obsessed, self-absorbed, exceedingly selfish and downright mean! Their take on the sweet originals is great and they definitely keep the kids engaged, but it’s in their run as the troublesome youths that they really ramp up the comedy, much to the audible delight of all the children but particularly the slightly older kids.
Miriam Swainsbury is our underwhelmed librarian who is prone to dismissive exasperation and our fairytale Witch(es) who encourage us to reconsider what we think we know of fairytale villains. The trio have great chemistry and as they flip between fairytale characters and those stuck in the library we get to see a great variety of personalities and perspectives, each entertaining in their own way.
This is yet another lovely show from a fantastic theatre company. Every child should see live theatre while they’re young enough to really feel the magic and shows like this are a perfect introduction to the wonderful world of live storytelling, adapting a classic in modern ways to win with children of all ages.
Wrongsemble’s Hansel and Gretel plays at Leeds Library (Room 700) until January 5th 2020 and you can find tickets here.