Review: Hansel & Gretel, Tobacco Factory

8 12 2012

Tobacco Factory Theatre director Ali Robertson has three favourite ensemble companies. They are the RSC, somewhat unsurprisingly Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, and New International Encounter (NIE), a company spanning the UK and Norway who were invited to make this year’s Christmas show at the North Street theatre.

Hansel and GretelHansel & Gretel may be a familiar fairytale, but this version is anything but familiar. This is a production where the audience are complicit in the goings-on as a character breaks out of character to explain what they, or their character, is thinking.

This is also a production where parallels can easily be drawn to these austere times that we live in. A Southville audience probably will not be down to their last onion skin or resorting to cannibalism  However, the troubles of our world in 2012 is certainly mirrored by the world created 200 years ago by the Brothers Grimm of hardship, pain and sacrifice.

Hansel and Gretel are played by Unai Lopez De Armentia and Stefanie Mueller, who as well as portraying their human form also portray puppet personas.

This means that on their way around the room collecting the stones Hansel has strategically dropped in order to find his way home after being abandoned in the forest, the puppets can high-five the children charged with their keeping.

The pillars in the Tobacco Factory Theatre can block sight lines and, like last year’s production of Cinderella, this was in the round. But here thanks to Mueller’s imaginative set design they were turned into tree trunks, with the solitary metal pillar left as the chimney of a wood burning stove.

From a pan-European company, language is a key element, with the cast from Spain to south Somerset often utilising their mother tongues, especially the blood curdling screams in Norwegian from Mia Hawk (above) as the evil step mother.

Being in the round, some lines are unfortunately lost. And the pace noticeably dips in he second half after a thundering start. But the skill of these actors made me often forget there were both human and puppet versions of our protagonists, in a witty and immensely enjoyable production from a company who deserve all their plaudits.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel & Gretel, Tobacco Factory Theatre until Jan 19. Click here for more information.