Saturday 15 September 2018

Music, puppets & poetry: Goldfield Productions' Hansel & Gretel - a nightmare in eight scenes

Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in 8 scenes - Goldfield Productions (Photo Still Moving Media courtesy Cheltenham Music Festival)
Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes - Goldfield Productions
(Photo Still Moving Media courtesy Cheltenham Music Festival)
Goldfield Productions' Hansel & Gretel (a nightmare in eight scenes) debuted in July this year at the Cheltenham Music Festival and is currently touring the UK. It is an intriguing show, mixing poetry, chamber music, puppetry and shadow play in a modern interpretation of the traditional Hansel and Gretel story. The artistic director of Goldfield Productions is Kate Romano, and I recently met up with her to find out more about Hansel & Gretel.

Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in 8 scenes - Clive Hicks-Jenkins's artwork
Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in 8 scenes
Clive Hicks-Jenkins's artwork - Goldfield Productions
The show is based on a poem by Simon Armitage which re-imagines the story and music has been provided by Matthew Kaner, an emerging composer who was embedded with BBC Radio 3 last year. The event mixes live table-top puppetry with projected shadowplay, and there is a storyteller in the form of Adey Grummet, the whole directed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. It is a compact piece, lasting just 60 minutes with five instrumentalists, narrator, five instrumentalists and two puppeteers.

Kate, who as well as being artistic director plays clarinet in the Goldfield Ensemble which accompanies the show, describes the piece as dark and quirky, but suggestive rather than in your face. The setting is a war torn country with hints of things such as the family being refugees. It is not a show for children, it is aimed at 12 and over, but that said Kate comments that they have had kids come to it and they loved it.

The idea for the show arose when Kate came across Clive Hicks-Jenkins' drawings, inspired by Hansel and Gretel, and it helped that Clive already had an association with Simon Armitage. So they started with the idea of Simon writing the poem, Matthew Kaner writing the music and creating a portable, flexible piece.

Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in 8 scenes - Jan Zalud's puppets - Goldfield Productions
Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes
Jan Zalud's puppets - Goldfield Productions
The characters of Hansel and Gretel are small puppets whose actions are projected onto a screen, and the puppets were made by master puppet-maker Jan Zalud. Then during the show Hansel and Gretel build their world from historic children's toys, mainly from Germany. Whilst much of the puppetry is done live and projected, some sequences are pre-filmed which creates something of a technical challenge. It was the first time that Kate had worked with puppeteers and she was amazed at the magic they could create. To add a new texture, the characters of the mother, father and the witch were created using shadow puppetry in a very different style to the puppets for Hansel and Gretel.

The instrumental ensemble consists of clarinet (doubling bass clarinet and E flat clarinet), viola, cello, cor anglais (doubling oboe) and French horn, with a selection of percussion including two toy pianos played by the various instrumentalists.

Kate describes the result as very visual but quite simple as there are no costume changes and no scene changes; she likens it to a concert performance with visuals.

As both artistic director of the company and its clarinettist, Kate would quite like to stand back and watch the production as an extra pair of eyes. But it is also very rewarding to perform in a work which you have commissioned and which exceeds your expectations.

Kate loves telling stories and this forms a major part of Goldfield's work, combining spoken word, shadow play and high-quality music in story telling for children. Hansel and Gretel is the most complex example of this that they have done. Kate sees the advantage of using a familiar story as the basis for the work as people can switch off, to a certain extent, from the story (as they know it) and concentrate on the music and the visuals.

Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes - Goldfield Productions
Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes - Goldfield Productions
Goldfield Productions, which developed out of the Goldfield Ensemble, acts as what Kate describes as a talent agency for artists at all stages of their career, so Goldfield works with composers and look for what they need for their development.  It is not just emerging composers like Matthew Kaner, for Goldfield's next project they are doing a recording of chamber music by Erika Fox (born 1936) for NMC.

Kate first came across Erika Fox's name through the composer Nicola Lefanu (the two are friends) but Kate Googled Erika Fox and found nothing. Yet Erika was very much alive and still busy creating, and Kate describes her music as fresh and bold. In fact, to listen to Erika's music Kate had to go to Erika's house! Erika had lots of success in the 1960s and 1970s, yet not commercial recordings and no publisher. So, not only are Goldfield doing a recording of Erika's chamber music, but they have created a website for her music.

Hansel and Gretel is at Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York (3 October), Milton Court Concert Hall, London (12 October), Canterbury Festival, Colyer-Fergusson Concert Hall (21 October), Bath Spa University  (24 October), Letchworth Broadway Theatre  (4 November). Full details from Kate Romano's website.

Cast & Crew
Music: Matthew Kaner
Poetry: Simon Armitage
Direction & Supervising Designer: Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Dramaturgy: Caroline Clegg
Producer: Kate Romano (for Goldfield Productions)
Puppets: Jan Zalud
Paper cuts: Peter Lloyd
Models: Phil Cooper
Cameraman & Animations Editor: Pete Telfer
Projections & onstage camera: Jon Street
Set construction: Jon Street
Lighting design: David Abra
Stage Manager: Andrew Shewan
Puppet costumes: Oonagh Creighton-Griffiths
Narrator: Adey Grummet
Puppeteer: Diana Ford
Puppeteer: Lizzie Wort
Music: performed by Goldfield Ensemble

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