REVIEW: Hansel and Gretel (Open Air Theatre) ★★★★

Following last summer’s The Turn of the Screw, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and English National Opera collaborate once again to present Hansel and Gretel, an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck with libretto written by his sister, Adelheid Wette, based on the fairytale by the Grimm brothers.

The show is sung in English and has two casts singing at alternate performances. Alongside the main cast is an ensemble of young performers and a chorus of local children from the Pimlico Musical Foundation. The ensemble work hard, switching from creepy woodland people to slick airline crew in a wonderful dream sequence. The children make the final scenes where the gingerbread children return to life especially poignant.

Heather Lowe and Elizabeth Karani bring a youthful energy to the roles of Hansel and Gretel, bounding around the stage with glee. Their parents are played by Gweneth Ann Rand and Ben McAteer, despairing of their boisterous children. Gillian Keith as the Sandman and He Wu as the Dew Fairy both deliver impressive performances. The highlight of the show for me was John Findon as the Witch, fabulously wicked, scolding the children for eating the house then luring them in with the offer of more sweet treats.

The set designers have excelled themselves with this production, bringing the familiar tale to life in the beautiful surroundings of Regent’s Park. The home of Hansel and Gretel is taken apart as the stage is transformed into the woods where the siblings get lost and then rebuilt as a wonderful gingerbread house. Fans of sweets and cake will be delighted at the details here.

While this is a fairy tale, this version plays up the creepier moments so it’s probably not suitable for really young viewers. Older children that enjoy a dark tale will enjoy this show.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Johan Persson

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