|Hansel and Gretel (Act 2) - Opera North - Katie Bray as Hansel and Fflur Wyn as Gretel - Photo Credit: Robert Workman|
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 2 2017
Imaginative use of video and strong performances make this new production a delight
|Katie Bray, Susan Bullock, Fflur Wyn|
Photo Credit: Robert Workman
Edward Dick's production imaginatively solved the problems of sharing the same basic set (and presumably a need for economy) by using video to create the effects. In Act 1, Hansel (Katie Bray) and Fllur Wyn (Gretel) spent a lot of time larking around with a video camera, the results being projected on the back wall of the rather grim kitchen where they lived (the time period was roughly modern). The result was startling and intriguing, with huge close-ups of the singers as they sang. When Gertrud (Susan Bullock), threw them out they ran and hid, which meant they heard Peter (Stephen Gadd) narrate the story of the witch. In Act Two they used the detritus from their father's failed business ventures (boxes of brushes, miniature Christmas trees) to create a magical projection of the forest, quite a remarkable video feat and a highly atmospheric design, though I was unsure what was live feed and what was video film. Gradually the acting-out of the story becomes 'real'.
The Sandman (Rachel J Mosley) was their grandmother, with a large teddy-bear, and the dream was of a wonderful trip to the seaside (again a video projection) full of running on the beach and food (a delightful close-up of the young actor Paolo Fialdini eating chips with a grin on his face), the other actors in the film being Melina Shillito and Val Tagger. The Dew Fairy (Amy Freston), proved to be the landlady from the film. Food was clearly the key, and in Act Three the fridge magically filled with food, mainly sweets and a close up from the video camera turned the whole kitchen into the magical house. Susan Bullock, as the witch, was a glamorous version of her previous incarnation, big hair, sun glasses and fur coat (certainly her first appearance made me think of the phrase 'All fur coat and no knickers').
|Stephen Gadd, Susan Bullock - Photo Credit: Robert Workman|
A delightful and satisfying ending, but what it missed was the redemptive power of Humperdinck's opera, replacing it with Christmas cheer and a sense of enjoying a fairy-tale. Humperdinck and his sister though, did more than that. So whilst I enjoyed the production, and was impressed with the imagination which Edward Dick and his team showed, I came away thinking that deep down Dick does not trust fairy-tales.
|Rachel J Mosley as Granny (the Sandman) - Photo Credit: Robert Workman|
Fflur Wyn and Katie Bray made a delightful and highly characterful pairing as the siblings, with Wyn nicely bossy as the elder sister and Bray brilliantly sulky. They clearly had developed a nice 'routine' which kept the action fresh, and imbued the two with a distinct sense of character. So there were no longeurs, as can sometimes happen, and no sense of the two singers going through their regular routine. It was also rather funny at times, and very poignant, the two kids imaginatively inventing their own world to replace the unsatisfactory one they lived in. All of the key moments were finely sung, and I was impressed with Bray's ability to squat on one leg whilst Wyn sang the song about the little man with the red cloak!
|Fflur Wyn, Katie Bray with Amy Freston as the Dew Fairy/Landlady|
photo Robert Workman
As the witch Bullock was glamour to a tee, and also slightly self mocking as the witch played a role for the children. Her spells were all cooking, making cakes etc and the feeding of Hansel involved Bullock dripping cake mix into Katie Bray's mouth! Again, a fine 'ew' moment for a family audience, but also something slightly suggestive too. You could certainly hear that Bullock was managing and reining in her voice, and sometimes you might have wished for a tad more lyrical ease. But neither Gertrud nor the witch are easy characters, and Bullock's intelligence really made the music and the text count. And who could forget the Wagner implications of having a great Brunnhilde as the witch in her invocations and dramatics in Act Three, something that Dick and Bullock clearly played on.
|Hansel and Gretel (Act One) - Fflur Wyn, Katie Bray - photo Robert Workman|
Stephen Gadd was nicely characterful as Peter, being outrageously drunk in Act One without being over done, and his innate charm came out so that we really forgave Peter. Perhaps the moment when Peter seems about to beat Gertrud (again, as we understand) could have been more dangerous, but with this show I am always aware of the difficulty of balancing Freudian danger with family friendly. In Act Three he had a jumper which lit up, to marvellous effect.
Rachel J Mosley is a member of the inestimable Opera North Chorus, and her solo roles included appearing in a number of roles in the 2016 Sondheim Into the Woods collaboration with the west Yorkshire Playhouse. She made a characterful Sandman. Not the most lyrically beautiful, but bringing out the granny charm made sense of the role in the particular context. Amy Freston is another Opera North Chorus member, who played Rapunzel in Into the Woods, and she was a delightful Dew Fairy. And Freston and Mosely re-appeared at the end, as Gretel's husband and Hansel's wife.
|Hansel and Gretel (Act 3)- Opera North - Fflur Wyn, Katie Bray - photo Robert Workman|
Edward Dick's production was not the darkest nor the most Freudian that I have seen, but he successfully brought a number of layers to the interpretation whilst he and his team showed great creative imagination in their use of mixed-media in evoking Humperdinck's magical world. This is the sort of production which manages to delight the children whilst providing adults with food for thought, aided by a strong series of performances from the cast. The opera is double-cast and later performances in the tour (from 2 March) will have a different cast and conductor, thus providing another view of the work.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Vivid theatricality: Suzi Digby and Ora - concert review
- Strong stuff: Chamber music by Kodaly and Dohnanyi - cd review
- Seminal Bulgarian composers: Wind from the East from pianist Victoria Terekiev - CD review First fruits: Tim Mead's first song recital at Wigmore Hall with James Baillieu - concert review