With the Christmas spirit beginning to make itself known around Dublin city, what better way to ease yourself into the growing atmosphere than with Engelbert Humperdink’s Hansel & Gretel? On this particular occasion, it is the seasoned hands of NI Opera who are to breath life into Humperdink’s most popular creation, and the classic Grimms Brothers fairytale. With director Oliver Mears bringing his own interpretation to the work, I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store.
It was clear from the moment conductor, and Ireland’s own, David Brophy raised the baton, that this wasn’t going to be a normal performance of an Opera. Hansel & Gretel is primarily designed as an opera that can be easily enjoyed by children and adults alike, and the hushed chatter, giggles and fidgeting that continued as the overture began to fill the theatre was a clear indication that the evening was to be more of a pantomime than an opera. As the curtain was raised, with the wonderfully designed set being revealed, these thoughts were confirmed. From the beginning, there was no shortage of laughter from the audience.
The dynamic duo of Hansel (Niamh Kelly) and Gretel (Kim Sheehan) are portrayed with masterful acting, with a wonderful sense of child-like innocence. The pair work very well together, and their chemistry adds massively to the experience. The arrival of their Mother (Doreen Curran) is slighty over-shadowed by the chemistry the pair share, but adds none-the-less to the drama onstage. It is at this point that we see Hansel and Gretel banished to the woods, the drama unfolds as Mother and a drunken Father (wonderfully portrayed by Paul Carey Jones), in realising their mistake, begin their search for the children.
The exceptional attention to detail is what makes this production stand apart from others; from Hansel’s scuffed knees, to the gentle falling leaves in the forest at the beginning of Act II all add to the experience, and make this feel like a labour of love, as opposed to just another production. The entry of the Sandman in Act II is wonderfully disturbing and dark, followed by the exquisite Evening Prayer. It would seem that this production could get no better. However, it is with Act III that we see it reach even greater heights.
With the infamous ‘gingerbread house’ becoming a sweet-shop and the ‘evil witch’ being portrayed by the flamboyant and enthralling Graham Clark, the act provides an absolute climax to the plot. Although vocally lacking in parts in comparison to his fellow cast members, Clark’s flamboyant and enthralling onstage presence makes up entirely for whatever he is missing vocally. Only escalating the sense of pantomime as he flounces about onstage, he adds a sense of the ridiculous to the story. He was no doubt thoroughly enjoyed by children and adults alike.
And humour was clearly an important aspect in the development of this production. The evil witch aside, some gems emerge. Particularly the use of a giant microwave in the place of the witch’s oven, complete with rotating witch and gorey splashing of blood when Clark is eventually thrown into its radiated depths, ending with the microwave exploding in a fantastic fashion. With the death of the witch, the wonderful children’s chorus arrive onstage as the ‘gingerbread children’- the spirits of those children murdered by the witch to date. Cleverly brought onstage out of the fridge in which they were stored as tasty snacks, are marvelously professional and talented. Their presence onstage adds a real sense of involvement to the end of Act III, and the opera.
Although not technically a pantomime, this production of Hansel & Gretel allowed for a great sense of involvement. It makes the art of opera accessible to families, children, and people who wouldn’t necessarily be tempted by the art form. With two Dublin performances remaining, Friday November 9th and Saturday 10th, this is definitely a family-friendly show to catch. Most certainly one to compliment the building Christmas atmosphere if the usual pantomime isn’t quite your thing.