HANSEL AND GRETEL
written by Alan P Frayn
Directed by Steph Evans and Lynsey Cooper
Bollington Arts Centre
The beauty of amateur dramatics is its ability to bring a community together and none more so than the genre of pantomime. It was evident that this pantomime did just that with its abundant number of youth players, all from local schools, supported on stage by their parents and others in the audience, and those working backstage and front of house. This really did feel that there was a bonding together of people and all enjoying the night’s entertainment.
Hansel and Gretel is not a pantomime that is overly familiar to me or, indeed, produced very often, though, of course, I remember the story published by the Brothers Grimm. Hansel (Andrei Naumkin) and his sister Gretel (Rose Kennedy) are left in the woods by their reluctant father, Fritz (Giles Gaddum) and horrible stepmother, Hildegard (Emma-Clare Sheldon). Initially they find their way back home only to have the same event repeated. Hansel thinks quickly and leaves a trail of crumbs, but these are eaten, and when they are abandoned again, they are forced to rely on two crows, Russell (Sinead Grimshaw) and Sheryl (Georgina Gaddum) – love the names - to show them the way. The only trouble is they lead them to Nightshade (Susannah Bridgett), the wicked witch who grinds children’s bones to make gingerbread. Quick thinking Gretel tricks the witch into looking in the oven and locks her in, and so they can escape and return home.
While this wasn’t a challenging plot line for an audience to follow it was packed with one liners from beginning to end for many of the characters to deliver. This script was written in such a way that a lot of the dialogue could be shared out among the general ensemble and this gave opportunity for those not in a principal role to be able to deliver a line or two. That’s the way to build confidence in those aspiring to take on roles in future years. This pantomime contained twenty-one songs and dances throughout both acts. Both Steph Evans and Lynsey Cooper did a great job of directing the scenes with such a large ensemble and choreographing the dance routines. Many of the songs and singers were well backed by the musical director, Rebekah Tomkinson and her small band of musicians.
In the title roles of Hansel and Gretel, Andrei and Rose gave confident and natural performances of the two siblings. They were great at projecting their voices so that the audience could hear everything. Their warring parents showed contrasting emotions throughout with Emma as the frosty and cold-hearted stepmother who had a pinched, stern expression every time she came onstage, and Giles, as the conflicted husband and father.
In every pantomime there are goodies and baddies, and this one is no different. Alannah Nolan was demur and softly spoken as good fairy, Bluebell, who spoke in rhyme and out to thwart the evil Nightshade. Susannah commanded the stage when she was on and encouraged the audience to boo and hiss as she described her plans, and even trying to fool the audience that she was an old woman - it didn’t get past us! There was a nice opposition in character for these two.
Pantomime just isn’t complete without a dame and in this one it was Peggy, aka Jan Loi-Mason. I believe it was a first for Jan to play this kind of role, and though he seemed nervous at the start he soon got into character and gave a larger than life portrayal with a great catch phrase to engage the audience whenever his knocker was banged. There was a good amount of banter between this character and of her children, Heather (Kristina Lisle) and Wally (Rebekah Tomkinson).
Rebekah was really engaging as the silly character, Wally, and even dressed in the identifiable Where’s Wally clothing. She had great timing for comedy, especially in the slap stick kitchen scene, and always had a smile on her face really lifting the audience and inviting them to play along with the jokes. I loved the laughter at self that became infectious with us all. This part was well played, and was a hoot to boot!
Kristina, joined in the fun but also provided the love interest for Ailsa Hay’s Prince Johan. Both played their roles with confidence and a great Principal Boy thigh slap from Ailsa. Eve Halsey fully supported prince as Wolfgang.
All other players totally had their moment. Two that really impressed me with their bearing and line delivery were the two crows, Sinead Grimshaw and Georgina Gaddum, who made every moment of their time on stage, and in character, count. Well done!
This was a large company and the directors did well to fit them all on stage. The scenery, designed by Steph Evans and painted by Maddy and Mary Odell, was functional and worked well in the space that was available. When there is limited stage space, that is when necessity makes you really creative. The scene changes, led by Paul Nolan, Stuart Longden and others were efficient and kept the pantomime moving at a pace.
In a BIG ensemble like this I am sure co-ordinating the wardrobe department is a task and a half, but Stephanie Narey and her costume team excelled themselves. The finale was superb and I am sure that a lot of effort and many sewing hours went into this.
The tone of the evening was set for me when I opened the programme and read Di Gordon’s piece “…Our annual production encourages each youngster to develop their confidence on stage and this spills over into their daily life…”. This is something with which I concur; this is community theatre.
May I thank society members for their hospitality, and I look forward to visiting again