Trestle Arts Base, St Albans
28 December 2014, 2pm
A visit to a Horse and Bamboo production has become just as much of a Christmas tradition for us as a visit to the panto but to be honest we’d go at anytime of the year.
The company’s take on the traditional fairy tale is always creative and highly imaginative and Hansel and Gretel, directed by Alison Duddle, with staging by Jonny Quick, follows that lead. Puppet shows have certainly come a long, long way since Punch and Judy!
Just like the house of sweets in the Brothers Grimm story, the show has something a little darker inside that ultimately shows you that what you want isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
The traditional tale is of two children sent out into the woods by a wicked stepmother, leaving a trail of bread, but this production drops the stepmother character and shows that the real evil in the world which splits families and leads to poverty and hunger is war.
It tells the story with just three excellent performers, who skilfully make you forget you are watching puppets, plus they use of masks, animation and music to explore the themes of being greedy, lost and tempted but also truly loved by your family.
Hansel and Gretel are depicted by puppets, and leave their father, a masked actor, when war breaks out.
Lost and alone in the forest, the usual trail of breadcrumbs to the witches house becomes what look like Werther’s Originals, which I’ve always felt could lead to something dodgy!
What happens to them in the heavily disguised cottage therefore becomes like a metaphor for the difficulties of living through conflict without a parent and fending for yourself. When the pair return to the safety of their home, war is, of course, over.
This makes it an absorbing show for the adults, but at the same time mesmerise the younger audience members who, while they may not get all the nuances of the message, will understand the story and be transfixed by the characters.
The imaginative set is easily transformed into the three areas in the story which clearly show the differences in time and situation. The children’s home is grey and bare, set against the garishly coloured witches house. While different sizes of the same puppet cleverly help to show distance and context.
The second half brings with it the wicked witch, a mixture of scary and comedic along similar lines to a panto villain but not so cheesy, and raises a cheer when she meets her end.
I loved the original music from Loz Kaye, which contained hints of the Nutcracker and Sugar Sugar to name but a few, and the seamless way the story moves along to its happy conclusion.
Plus, there are no reality TV or Z-list stars and no sparkly tat for sale in the foyer, so, as much as I enjoy panto, this is certainly a complete antidote!
A dark yet delicious treat.
V’s verdict (as dictated by a four-year-old)
I liked the witch because she was funny and scary and so was the story. I didn’t like it when they were lost but I was happy when they got back to their daddy.
Run time: About an hour and a half with a 20 minute interval.
Age range: The guide is 5+ but four-year-old V was fine. Younger ones could find it a challenge story wise but they can still be interested in the action.
Other stuff: A free programme with lots of information about the show.
For tour dates see the Horse and Bamboo website.