This quirky, witty, intelligent take on one of the darkest of Grimm’s Tales has mobile trees, a Russian talking oven, lots of quite sinister puppeted animals, plenty of Brechtian exaggeration and more chases back and forth across the stage than the Keystone Cops. The Cottesloe is congfigured in retro mode and the playing area designed (Vicki Mortimer) as a big proscenium with treble wings, a single backcloth and nice red velvet curtains. Music is provided - written by Paul Clark and often sounding a bit like pared down Sondheim - by John Paul Gandy at the front with what it meant to look like a big cinema-style organ. It’s a clever concept.
Justin Salinger (Johann), Amit Shah (Marta), Dylan Kennedy (Hansel) and Ruby Bentall (Gretel) in Hansel and Gretel at the Cottesloe, National Theatre Photo: Tristram Kenton
Also neat is the framing device which gives us the eccentric brothers Grimm searching for a new story and, eventually, rather pleased that they found one. The story unfolds slickly with a cast of five who work their socks off to play all the roles. Dylan Kennedy is strong as Hansel and he sings well in a fruity, tuneful voice - songs punctuate the action although this isn’t a true musical. Gretel, a feminist role perhaps since it is she who works out how to save the day and does so while Hansel eats himself fat and despairs, is very watchable in the hands of Ruby Bentall. Among the many other roles they play Amit Shah finds real depth in the troubled stepmother, Kate Duchene’s myopic child-eating witch is terrific and suitably terrifying and Justin Salinger has fun with the children’s father and a reformed/transformed wicked bat.
Mitchell, as she has shown before, takes theatre for children just as seriously as she does theatre for adults and children and she consulted with children during the rehearsal process. It’s an unusual way of working but the result is pretty pleasing.