When visiting the opera, it is customary to conjure images of lavish costumes, opulent scenery and the glorious retelling of deep and diverse stories to a rich musical backdrop. However, HighTime's Hansel and Gretel tells a very different kind of operatic story in their new and modern English translation, set to Englebert Humperdinck's original musical score.
We see Hansel and Gretel transported from their familiar little cottage by the woods into a more industrial setting encased within the fabric of a giant tent. The sparseness of the scenery and dowdy costumes remind us of the poverty-stricken life faced by the two children. There are no gingerbread houses here - instead, danger awaits in the form of a circus, designed to entice wayward children into the clutches of a greedy Ringmaster rather than a wicked witch. This new circus plot twist works well and, with the addition of some scenery changing clowns, takes the story down a whole new path (without any breadcrumbs, I'm afraid).
Alexa Mason has a lovely energy as Gretel. She is girly, sweet and endearing, her youthful portrayal matched nicely by the rich bell-like quality of her soprano vocals. Sian Cameron's grumpy and greedy Hansel is a good contrast, giving us just the right amount of stroppy 'older brother' and the brother/sister connection between the two is very clear and well defined. Excellent moments include the tender, harmonised Bedtime Prayer in Act One and the fantastically mischievous sweet-stealing scene in Act 2 (from a hotdog cart rather than a gingerbread house).
Their parents, played by Jon Stainsby and Wendy Dawn Thompson, also counteract well. Mother is harassed, depressed and scornful whilst Father is cheerful, masculine and strong and Jon Stainsby's delicious vocals hit the ear like melted chocolate.
Oliver Marshall takes on the role of the Ringmaster attempting to fatten Hansel up with sweets whilst Charlotte Ireland and Caroline Kennedy interject some pretty vocals as the Magician and Keeper of Birds. The addition of the Children's Chorus is also a lovely touch towards the end of the story.
Special note must be taken of the scenery moving clowns trio, brought to life by Liam Lewis, Miriam O'Brien and Joey Parsad. They give us some excellent examples of comical mime and all three evoke their individual characters with dexterity throughout the performance.
HighTime seek to create opera for all and in this, their inaugural performance, they have taken some great steps towards achieving that aim. A brave retelling of the original story, Hansel and Gretel will certainly whet your appetite.
Hansel and Gretel runs until 9 May at the Belgrade Theatre B2. Tickets are available by clicking here or by calling the box office on 024 7655 3055.
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