Monday, 23 December 2013

Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel

Scottish Ballet's Hansel and Gretel, Theatre Royal Glasgow, 21 Dec 2013

If you want to rework a well-known story so that it is fresh and contemporary but not gimmicky Scottish Ballet's Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson, shows how to do it.  Locating the first Act of The Nutcracker by the banks of the Thames or getting rid of the divertissements from Aurora's wedding in Sleeping Beauty seem to me to be changes for change sake.  Hampson, however, has produced a version of Hansel and Gretel set in the 1950s and 1960s that is a different from the Grimm brothers' story and Humperdinck's opera but still works very well.

The synopsis is the product of a remarkable exercise called Hansel & Gretel and Me which included creative writing and art competitions for adults and children and outdoor performances of scenes from the story. Those exercises, which lstarted in 2012, were carried out in conjunction with the National Library and National Galleries of Scotland, the Scotsman newspaper and other Scottish and local institutions.

Whether intended by the choreographer or not there were plenty of Scottish cues as the ballet unfolded.  Muriel Spark's Prime of Miss Jean Brodie came to mind as a new teacher who turned out to be the witch charmed the children and spirited them away.  Nesbit and Roper's Steamie as Hansel and Gretel's mother, hair in head scarf, cigarette in hand, shuffled back into the house and slumped on the sofa as her children hauled off her shoes and shod her with slippers. Even the music hall song "I belong to Glasgow" as pa returned with two of his cronies very much the worse the wear with Glasgow going round and round. Judging by the conversations in the Bar in the interval, the audience at the Theatre Royal picked up on all those allusions.

The story has created some really juicy roles.  First, there is the teacher who morphs into the local vamp, the ballerina in the moon and finally a wicked and twisted, ugly old witch.  Next there are the parents who shed their everyday existence to perform a glamorous pas de deux in the children's dreams.  There are Hansel and Gretel themselves not to mention lots of ravens, chefs and fairies.   Because the theatre management distributed cast lists dated the 18 December instead of the 21 and as I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the company to recognize the dancers on stage I cannot be sure who danced those roles.  According to that cast list Marge Hendrick danced the witch, Christopher Harrison and Luciana Ravizzi the parents, Constant Vigier Hansel and Sophie Martin Gretel. If that cast list is right Hendrick danced impressively, especially as she is still listed in the corps on the company's website.

Although the score was composed by Engelbert Humperdinck it includes extracts from his other works as well as his opera. The fascinating story of how Richard Honner, the Principal Conductor, compiled and orchestrated a ballet score is set out in the programme in an article by Graeme Virtue.

Gary Harris's sets which had to transport us from Hansel and Gretel's home to a city street, the enchanted forest, the imaginary feast and finally the interior of the witch's gingerbread house were ingenious. The fridge which opened to reveal a solitary beer can anchored the ballet in the late 1950s or early 1960s.  An impression reinforced by the mother's pinny and headscarf and Hansel's shorts with braces and open neck shirt.

Brilliantly conceived, brilliantly orchestrated, brilliantly designed and brilliantly danced my only fear is that it will spoil me for the next ballet that I shall see which will be Northern Ballet's Cinderella at the Grand on Boxing Day. I hope not for as a Friend and as a member of the over 55 class of its Academy I feel part of that company and love it dearly. But I have followed Scottish Ballet ever since it was in Bristol and I got to know it well when it first moved to Glasgow (see Scottish Ballet 20 Dec 2013). Scottish Ballet was my first love and they say that one's first love is always the greatest. Having seen Hansel and Gretel my love for Scottish Ballet has been rekindled.

Hansel and Gretel will stay at Glasgow until this Saturday. It will then move to Edinburgh (8 to 11 Jan 2014), Aberdeen (15 - 18 Jan 2014), Inverness (22 - 25 Jan 2014), Newcastle (29 Jan - 1 Feb 2014) and Belfast (5 - 8 Feb 2014). If you live anywhere near those towns do go to see it.  Although no plans to bring it anywhere else have been published, I hope the company will dance Hansel and Gretel to London or, better still from my point of view, Leeds and Manchester.

Post Script

Andrew Cameron, Customer Services Manager of the Theatre Royal, has just emailed me the cast list for the performance on 21 Dec 2013 which I have just reviewed.


Mother Eve Mutso
Sandman Christopher Harrison
Ravens Daniel Davidson, Rimbaud Patron, Thomas Edwards
Chefs Nicholas Shoesmith, Thomas Kendall
Dew Drop Fairy Constance Devernay
Rag Dolls Sophie Laplane, Jamiel Laurence

Waiters, Waitresses,
Fairy Attendants, Sweet Treats
and other characters: Artists of Scottish Ballet

Conductor Richard Honner

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