Opera to the people

hansel and gretel

Hansel and Gretel

High Time Opera

Belgrade Theatre

*****

HANSEL and Gretel, a ‘fairy tale in three acts’, is the best-known of Englebert Humperdinck’s prolific output and this translation from Kit Hesketh-Harvey (Kit and the Widow) translates not the libretto (by Adelheld Wette, Humberdinck’s sister), but the nuts and bolts of the original story from the Brothers Grimm. Themes emerge of poverty, magic and food.

Why this tale now? That’s a good question. High Time is a new opera company, the first professional opera company based in Coventry, which aims to bring opera to family audiences who wouldn’t normally get the chance.

As such the choice was of an opera that was accessible to a family audience and in this they have succeeded. Twenty-seven per cent of the audience were children.

The ‘children’ on stage, bickering and being naughty, Hansel (Charlotte Ireland) and Gretel (Alexa Mason) have been so trying to their mother (Wendy Dawn Thompson), living in grinding poverty in a hovel in the forest, that she banishes them to the town rubbish dump to forage for food.

When father, the poor woodcutter (Jon Stainsby), returns from work, his happiness at a stroke of luck - good money for repairing the animal cages at the newly arrived circus – turns to horror.

He already knows that the circus ringmaster (Oliver Marshall) has a reputation for stealing children – so many have disappeared from the town.

The children try to go home but are lost. It is dark, they are hungry, they hear noises that are scary and try to sleep but can’t. Until the dreammaker (Sian Cameron) sprinkles magic dust on them and they sleep and dream with that beautiful, simple, haunting melody you’d know, When at night I go to sleep.

The children dream of forgiveness and treats, Christmas and lollipops and have the best night’s sleep of their lives. Caroline Kennedy as The Keeper of the Birds, the dawn chorus, wakes the children.

But stranger danger lurks and their happiness turns to tears as the oleaginous circus ringmaster arrives and tricks Hansel into a cage to fatten up to eat later. Gretel has to work out how to save her brother – which she does mercifully in the traditional way by playing it daft but in so doing saves the host of children caged for later consumption.

I haven’t mentioned the clowns, they set the scene with the most charming piece of scene shifting dance I’ve ever seen (Joey Parsad, Miriam O’Brien, Liam Lewis who also choreographed). I also haven’t mentioned co-founder Benjamin Hamilton as conductor and repetiteur Richard Black.

This production, directed by Felicity Green, is charmingly simple, beautiful musically, very funny and then very dark by turns and well worth seeing. I, for one, will seek out High Time in the future. To 09-05-15.

Jane Howard

09-05-15

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