This visually stunning production of Hansel & Gretel (written by brother and sister Engelbert Humperdinck and Adelheid Wette nee Humperdinck in 1893) works on every level, but especially the perfect fit between the setting, the stage design and the stuff of the play itself. For what more appropriate setting could one imagine for a forest folk fantasia than the arboreal wonder that is the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. Walking from Baker Street station one enters the outer circle of Regent’s Park, then the inner circle, followed by the circular form of the theatre itself until finally, one sees the rotating circular stage with the cottage at its centre. Nothing could be more enchanting or magical. As a venue to stage an opera about children lost in a forest Regent’s Park is unmatched. The danger Hansel and Gretel encounter on stage is mirrored off stage as dusk encroaches. An objective correlative if ever there was one. I envied every family that had the opportunity to take their children to see lasts nights production. It’s quite simply the best production in the best setting. Every audience member from 9 to 90 was clearly mesmerised, captivated and enchanted.
Peter McKintosh has produced a series of stunning sets. The cottage at the centre of the action suggests that all might not be well by the distorted shape and exaggerated angularity of the structure. The door hangs crookedly. The chimney is too big. He has come up with ingenious ways to use and reuse props. The witches brooms are turned upside down and inserted into holes to make a forest of trees. Magically fairy lights appear in the brushes in the second act lighting up the stage. As Hansel and Gretel get lost in the forest, the cottage is dismantled plank by plank until nothing is left. They are lost and their home no longer exists. In the second act when Hansel and Gretel discover the Gingerbread cottage the sets become truly scrumptious. Lollipop stepping stones, gingerbread men with flashing eyes, walls made from detachable squares of sponge cake prove irresistible for the lost and starving forest foragers. The dangers in all things sweet are suddenly revealed as the set revolves and we see the hideous interior of this external façade of sweets. An iron cage, monstrous extra-large black rubber gloves and the double steel doors of a giant oven.
The music is wonderfully brought to life by the excellent ENO orchestra situated behind the stage so as not to put too much distance between the performers and the most important people: the audience. The singing, in English, is clear and audible throughout. Heather Lowe as Hansel and Elizabeth Karani as Gretel convince as brother and sister and as children. Their parents Gweneth Ann Rand (Mother) and Ben McAteer (Father) get the shift from callous to concerned just right. John Findon as the witch Rosie Lickspittle steals the show. Funny as the pantomime dame in poker dot dress, dainty high heels, blonde wig and lashings of red lipstick he is terrifying once he has Hansel and Gretel inside his factory for fattening up and baking children. He revels in shaving his legs and eating the shavings thereof. Hilariously repulsive. This is a wonderfully entertaining evening where all the arts – architecture, music, singing, acting, dance, lighting, costumes – working together give us something truly memorable, mesmerising and magical.
Review by John O’Brien
Continuing the collaboration which brought The Turn of the Screw to the Open Air Theatre stage last season, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and English National Opera present Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck (14 June – 22 June), conducted by Ben Glassberg and directed by Timothy Sheader.
Hansel and Gretel
Music by Engelbert Humperdinck
Original libretto by Adelheid Wette
Translation by David Pountney | Orchestral reduction by Derek J Clark
After a fairytale by Jacob Ludwig and Wilhelm Carl Grimm
Conducted by Ben Glassberg
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Conductor Ben Glassberg
Director Timothy Sheader
Designer Peter McKintosh
Movement Director Lizzi Gee
Lighting Designer Oliver Fenwick
Sound Designer Nick Lidster for Autograph
Season Associate Director (Voice) Barbara Houseman
Casting Director Michelle Williams
Hansel – Heather Lowe
Gretel – Elizabeth Karani
Mother – Gweneth Ann Rand
Father – Ben McAteer
Witch – John Findon
Sandman – Gillian Keith
Dew Fairy – He Wu
Hansel & Gretel
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre