Hansel and Gretel at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Dark and disquieting, Hansel and Gretel is one of the folktales unearthed by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm that still captivates the imagination. Deemed too bleak for young readers, the story has often been toned down to suit a wider readership, leading to numerous retellings. Among these is Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera, which was initially created by the composer’s sister Adelheid as a short play to entertain the family. Humperdinck developed the work into a full-scale production which is now presented by the English National Opera in collaboration with Regent’s Park Theatre.
The main episodes of the infamous story can be compressed into a handful of scenes, which potentially leaves plenty of room for fleshing out the tale with reinterpretations. The Humperdinck siblings do make small adjustments to the plot, but they mainly limit themselves to shedding the more gruesome details of the Grimm brothers’ version. The ENO staging, too, misses the opportunity to add a new dimension and, in spite of the choreography and music bridging the key events, one cannot help feel that most scenes seem to lack vitality and purpose.
The story sees Hansel and Gretel in their modest home attempting to work as instructed by their mother. Distracted by their hunger, they fail to accomplish anything and are sent to the woods as punishment to pick berries for dinner. The two get lost and it soon transpires that the wood is haunted. After much distress, they chance upon a gingerbread house made of edible walls and windows. They are thrilled by the discovery, until a witch emerges to meet them and lure them in.
Unfortunately, the opening scenes fail to grasp the audience and all ensemble work lacks flow. The leading duo, while exhibiting notable technique with their singing, do not engage in their roles and are not believable as children. The first act is made interesting by the siblings’ parents, who convey desperation, anger and fear with verve and humour as they lament their situation. Similarly, in the second act, the action is shaken up by the witch, who steals the show with a comical yet disturbing vibe – and a look to match.
Pivotal moments such as the final conflict between the children and the witch, or the parents’ reappearance at the end, are neither emotionally strong nor visually dynamic. The production does have its merits, but most of the magic is provided by the setting of the Open Air Theatre. The unique atmosphere of the tree-lined stage and natural sounds in the background make the experience special and are the perfect extension to the setting of this fairytale. Sadly, this staging does not fulfil the huge potential that the plot allows.
Photos: Johan Persson
Hansel and Gretel is at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 14th June until 22nd June 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.