Hansel & Gretel / let the right one in – reviews by Carole Woddis.


Opera in Peckham.  Who’d have thought it?  But opera, I’m happy to say, is breaking out in all kinds of fresh and unusual places, much I’m sure to the health and future benefit of opera.  After all, if opera is to survive, it needs a new, young audience on board to support it.

Productions like Opera in Space’s Hansel & Gretel can’t help but push that along.  There’s an intimacy and buoyancy to this small scale operation that larger organisations can’t always match.  And the cross cultural nature – and age – of the audience seemed to prove the point here in Peckham’s Bussey building which continues to grow in quality and variety of shows it can attract.

A few months ago it was the National Theatre of Scotland transforming the main bar room into a celtic pub ceilidh.  This time it becomes a Christmassy hall where a female crooner, in sparkly scarlet, sings Golden Oldies before morphing into the laundry-strewn home of the two children.

Clad in modern day trainer bottoms and woolly hats, Sylvie Gallant (Gretel and, as it happens, Opera in Space’s artistic director) and Katie Slater (Hansel), accompanied solely by a trio of musicians begin their journey.

The style is at once sweet, accomplished and highly professional as we move up a floor into the forest created out of shards of hanging green tinsel, then encounter a silver sequinned good fairy, a huge, benign Polar Bear, before ascending to the top floor where the gingerbread house awaits.

Director Richard Pyros and designer Justin Nardella do a great job, creating a snow-filled square, subtle lighting and lo and behold, a Valkyrie like Witch (Rhonda Browne), all day glo black and yellow leather like some gorgeous piece of liquorice who feeds Gretel almond paste, rides around on a ghostly bicycle and threatens her with unspeakable acts.

Reduced down to 90 minutes, Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1890s opera, if shorn of some of its grimmer, more frightening aspects, emerges here as a clever, imaginative, splendidly sung and designed festive bauble, suitable for all the family.

The possibilities for future adapted opera classics must be endless…

Certainly recommended.

Hansel & Gretel runs at The Bussey Building, Rye Lane, Peckham to Dec 22, 2013: see www.operainspace.org

And in a different key altogether, Swedish gothic and vampirism meets sweet innocence in the National Theatre of Scotland’s latest, and outstandingly beautiful and moving let the right one in, a transfer from Dundee Rep to the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square.

Horrendous school bullying, a serial killer loose in the local vicinity and a young girl caught in a possessive father-daughter relationship are just some of the ingredients that go into this brilliant production by NTS Associate (now Royal Court Associate) director, John Tiffany that includes a forest of a totally different hue – solid yet ethereal – atmospheric music by Icelandic composer Ôlafur Arnalds and a series of stunning visual and theatrical coups.

Adapted by Jack Thorne from the 2004 Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (later an award winning film), this is a show whose several layers leave it open to any number of symbolic or psychological interpretations.  A rites of passage tale, a cautionary warning about possessive love and the suspicion of family incest between father and daughter, and yet again, the most marvellous study of bashful adolescence on the part of its teenage hero, Oskar, whose gentle love for the disturbed, confused Eli proves a turning point in his maturity and growth, Tiffany’s production finally simply takes the breath away by its beauty and triumph of purity over evil.

Not to be missed.

let the right one in is at the Royal Court Jerwood Downstairs Theatre to Dec 21.

See www.royalcourttheatre.co.uk

Carole Woddis © Dec 2013.