Review: Hansel & Gretel and the Witch Baba Yaga
Image: Iris Theatre
Cast and creatives
Rosie Abraham - Gretel
Deshaye Gayle - Hansel
Josie Brightwell - Mother / Baba Yaga Korizima / Baba Yaga Martzanna
Jennifer Clement - Vasilisa / Marya / Sergeant
Nick Howard-Brown - Father / Koschei / Harpier
Will Kelly - Ivan / Baba Yaga Gorska Majka / Baba Yaga Martzanna / Officer / Perun / Dapoga
Featuring a life-size, edible gingerbread house, this production follows Hansel and Gretel as they travel deeper and deeper into a dark, forbidding forest.
There, in the shadows, you might glimpse a figure in a red hood chased by a wolf, or a witch’s hut standing tall on chicken legs; all manner of magical beasts lurk in these woods.
Promenading round the grounds of St Paul’s Church, this immersive fairytale is guaranteed to fright and delight curious children and adventurous adults alike.
Offie-nominated for her production of Much Ado About Nothing last year, Amy Draper returns to direct a brand new adaptation of one of the Brothers Grimm’s most beloved stories, written by Treasure Island writer and Iris Theatre artistic director Daniel Winder.
This production by Iris Theatre at St Paul's Church in Covent Garden embodies a rather special format - the show is performed in the open air with the audience promenading to different seating areas in the grounds of the church, thereby following the action as it switches between locations.
Now it obviously goes without saying that the pleasure of outdoor theatre depends rather heavily on the weather.
Since the huge mass of high temperature air which has been plaguing many other areas of Europe seems to have by-passed the UK, the current meteorological conditions mean that sitting watching a play outside is even more of a gamble than usual.
Fortunately, the rain held off on this occasion, but it was one of the chilliest nights of this summer - maybe any summer.
So if you intend venturing out to see this show - and you most definitely should - take some warm clothes and waterproofs (at least until the weather gets a little kinder).
Rosie Abraham (Gretel) & Nick Howard-Brown (Koschei) Photo: Nick Rutter
The Grimm Brothers' tale of Hansel and Gretel is more than a worthy story to be revived - it never seems to get nearly the number of productions that it deserves.
For the uninitiated, the Baba Yagas in the title are witches in Slavic folklore and here they present perfect opportunities for the immensely talented actors to excel in the characterisation department, and none of them let that golden opportunity slip by.
'Hansel & Gretel' is a fairly complex fairy tale that is basically about two siblings whose parents leave them in the deep, dark woods to fend for themselves.
And in that stark setting they meet up with some rather unpleasant witches, one of whom wants to fatten-up Hansel like a pig in order to cook and eat him.
But there's a considerable amount of backstory and extraneous issues that crop-up along the way, such as a weird disease called the 'black stain', which Gretel has already succumbed to when the show starts.
The complexity of the storyline didn't seem to daunt any of the younger members of the audience here - one little boy sitting near me at one point was simply transfixed, sitting motionless and open-mouthed, with just eyes darting from side to side as the action unfolded.
Sitting on the doorsteps of numerous West End theatres packed with valuable gadgetry and sparklingly expensive costumes, you may think that a production playing at a church might lack the funds to match the production values of its wealthier neighbours, or that the show might be amateurish in some way.
You'd be completely wrong on both counts - Amy Draper's hugely inventive production is not only totally professional in every respect, but boasts excellent, well-honed performances, accomplished singing, puppetry, fine music and lovingly-detailed sets - like the gingerbread house - arranged on different levels and brilliantly shoehorned into the trees and shrubbery in the churchyard.
In spite of the chilly weather, Daniel Winder's fun and compelling adaptation of this terrific fairy tale gets a wonderfully magical treatment from director Amy Draper, with hugely enjoyable, gusto performances from a fine cast.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Iris Theatre
Our show listing for Hansel & Gretel and the Witch Baba Yaga
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