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Opera North: Hansel and Gretel

25 March 17 words: Dom Henry

Dom Henry went to see Hansel and Gretel at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal

Opera North’s new spin on Engelbert Humperdinck’s (no not that one) Hansel and Gretel opera, spins the dark 1890s fairy tale score into a tooth rotting riot of modern confectionary and peril for under fed estate nippers.

Now, many of us will be familiar with the Brothers Grimm tale, of a young brother and sister who end up kidnapped by a witch living deep in the forest. A nasty one too, with a taste for plump children drawn to her decidedly sticky house made of cake and gingerbread.  The premise is the same, but instead of starving German rural kinder, we have a pair of bored kids stuck in a high rise council flat, with nowt better to do then games around the place and endless distraction amongst the glowing screens of ‘devices’ in the long hungry gaps between meals.



Their favourite tool of fun is a video camera, cleverly rigged to feed projections live across the tired flat backdrop, its lens and screen a natural outlet for antics, faces and poses in the mobile style. All of which is cleverly beamed across the peeling walls, to whisk us between often surreal scenes of flat, forest and the fabulously lurid brand palace that is the witches house, packed with all the colourful confectionary and modern cakes young ‘uns crave.

The use of the camera to draw us into their world is all the more telling up close, as household bottle brushes and tiny Christmas trees shot at toy level are as a giant forest projected and are absorbingly transformed into something far more real, dangerous and grainy, with more than a touch of Blair Witch.



A small but very professional cast were all easy to like as they sang to the superb score of the Opera North orchestra conducted by Christoph Aldstadt. Hansel (Katie Bray) and Gretel (Fflu Wyn) had the pre-teen brother and sister bickering and mannerisms down to a very convincing tee. While big hitting soprano Susan Bullock, covers both their glum Mum Gertrude and tarty wicked Witch in a big bouffant - both comic and sinister as she gleefully waves her hand mixer of a wand while musing how to serve up the tender children.

If you’re not a fan of ‘traditional’ opera don't be scared off.  There isn’t a gingerbread man or lederhosen in sight.  The rich media visuals (care of Matthew Haskins and Ian Willian Galloway) were excellent and used to do a lot of the hard work in transporting us between scenes and are engrossing. However, some of the surreal transitions aren’t so easy to follow, especially in the first half, when just as we are working out whether we’re in flat or forest we get suddenly spun into a lovely ‘trip to the seaside with nan’ dream sequence. You what duck? Candyfloss?

Definitely worth catching up on the story and plot pre-show or you may find yourself lost in the trees. The second half is better with much stickily dark fun and horror in the colourful witches house before a quickly wrapped up happy ending. A fun show, sung in English, so a good choice for youngsters after their first taste of Opera.

Opera North’s Hansel and Gretel plays at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal on Wednesday 22 and Saturday 25 March 2017.

Also showing Opera North: The Snow Maiden Fri 24 March and Opera North: Cinderella Saturday 25 March 2017.

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