Scottish Ballet are at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh this year with their production of Hansel and Gretel and, as always, it is the Christmas season spectacle that we have all come to love from them. Ballet at The Festival Theatre is as much part of an Edinburgh tradition as Panto is at their sister theatre The King’s.
Hansel and Gretel of course takes its source material from the traditional tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm, and it is a fair bet that pretty much every adult and child in the audience knows this story in at least one of its versions. This production is a return to the 2013/2014 ballet created by Christopher Hampson and set to the music of Engelbert Humperdinck. As usual though, Christopher Hampson has with his choreography and storyline re-imagined this classic and taken it from its traditional German medieval forest settings to a contemporary Scottish setting that could be anywhere from the 1940s to 1970s (although this setting does seem to be late 1960s/early 1970s). In this story, we also have that very important “realism” that Christopher brings to his characters.
Set against a story line of a town whose children are disappearing leaving only Hansel & Gretel still at home, we follow our two intrepid investigators as they creep out of their house at night and try to find their lost friends. A journey that leads them eventually deep into the woods, a gingerbread house, and a wicked child-eating witch (amazing how children accept that story line so easily and with no fear).
Andrew Peasgood (Hansel) and Bethany Kingsley-Garner (Gretel) are outstanding together as brother and sister here, and knowing one another for so long in real life undoubtedly adds to that realism that they bring to the stage. Hansel and Gretel are slightly odd roles for two dance leads to play as it has none of the traditional duets. Instead, the dancers must move as children, and watching Andrew and Bethany transform their movements down to even the smallest of actions such as creeping along the floor or curled up sleeping is amazing to watch. Great examples that ballet is just not about dance but watching and interpreting movement itself.
Araminta Wraith as the Witch provides us with another outstanding display of dance and body movement as her role requires her to be schoolteacher, glamorous woman around town and wicked witch. Every role requires a different person to be on stage and the final transformation in the gingerbread house is one of the show’s highlights. As a performer, it must be difficult to portray the opposite of what every little girl imagines a ballet dancer to look like and move like.
This is of course a fairy story so we need a good fairy, and our Dew Drop Fairy for this performance is Constance Devernay who probably provides the image of a ballerina that many a small girl in the audience has in their minds.
Some great character roles too from Marge Hendrick (Mother) and Evan Loudon (Father) as they move from grim realism to fantasy dance couple. Christopher Harrison as The Sandman has a short but very effective role here too. Two of the great character roles in this story though go to Sophie Laplane and Jamiel Laurence as the very believable Rag Dolls.
This is a performance piece that works so well because it has everything right...great story, choreography, dance and music working perfectly together and also an outstanding creative team of people to bring the world of Hansel and Gretel to life.
Simply another classic Christmas show from Scottish Ballet that the whole family can enjoy irrespective of age.
Review by Tom King