Scottish Ballet: Hansel and Gretel Festival Theatre

For his first production for Scottish ballet, Artistic Director Christopher Hampson has taken Grimms’ fairytale, set it to the music of Engelbert Humperdinck, composer of the opera of the same name, subtracted some of the more gruesome elements of the original, and added one or two details from other tales, most notably the Pied Piper. For there is no wicked stepmother here, but a teacher who enslaves her pupils with magic candy and leads them off to the gingerbread cottage with the intention of cooking and eating them. Something that the younger members of the audience can no doubt relate to (well it had me reminiscing about my primary school teachers). While this story of betrayed trust and cannibalism might not, at first take, seem a likely subject for a festive tale for all the family, it has been filtered through a soft-focus lens to the extent that it is suitable for all ages.

And the result is an entrancing, enthralling spectacle from start to finish. Credit must go to designer Gary Harris, for his sets both capture and enhance the mood of the story throughout. Likewise the costumes – the ravens who pick up the breadcrumb trail left by Hansel and Gretel as they make their way into the forest in search of their schoolfriends are portrayed as a sinister, leather-jacketed gang, and the Dew Drop Fairy (excellently danced by Bethany Kingsley-Garner) is almost impossibly beautiful.

Clever use of oversized tables and chairs surmounts the obvious problem of making the two leads (Constant Vigier and Sophie Martin) appear childlike, and in early scenes with their parents they are carefully positioned on stage so there is an appearance of adult/child height difference.

But this is ballet, and the dance is all. If the cast were to falter, all else would be rendered so much fairy dust. Happily, there are no problems here, quite the opposite. Vigier and Martin make convincing siblings, their body language conveying the relationship that lies beneath the superficial teasing and squabbling, their dancing imbued with the athleticism of youth.

There are few opportunities for ensemble pieces, the arrival of the Dew Drop Fairy and her shimmering cohort apart, and this places considerable responsibility on Vigier and Martin, and even more on Eve Mutso in the pivotal role of the Witch, who moves from elegant teacher to deformed hag as the story progresses. Her every movement perfectly judged, she is ultimately the star of the show.

Mention must be made of the Ravens, though. Clad in black leather jackets with the gang name picked out in studs, their almost “West Side Story” performance got the loudest applause in Act 1. I’m sure that had nothing at all to do with the number of young women in the audience last night…

A wonderful start to the year for any theatre-goer. I would unreservedly recommend this to anyone, be you seasoned ballet lover or someone who has never experienced this art form before. It shines and sparkles, and leaves you with a smile on your lips.

Jim Welsh