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Hansel And Gretel at the National Theatre

Published 14 December 2012

A certain Mr Wonka’s chocolate factory aside, there is only one other confectionary themed building that has the ability to make children’s mouths water, and that’s the edible abode at the heart of Hansel And Gretel.

While young sweet-toothed theatregoers will have to wait until next year before they can indulge in the former, they can head straight to the National’s Cottesloe theatre this Christmas to see the well-known fairy tale behind the Grimm brothers’ sugar-coated construction, which has been brought to life on stage by playwright Lucy Kirkwood and director Katie Mitchell.

The NSFW playwright has put her own unique twist on the classic tale, taking it from its far-fetched conception in the hands of moustachioed story-catchers Wilhelm and Jacob and their yarn-yielding machine the Confabulator to the deep, dark forest where Hansel and Gretel are left abandoned by their abusive stepmother.

As we follow the siblings along their trails of white pebbles and breadcrumbs, we encounter not only the Grimm brothers’ traditional characters, but a whole host of new faces, from Stuart, a bat with a background in ballet who burps after banoffee pie, to a Russian oven called Rostislav who longs to be set free from his evil child-eating master.

As mobile Christmas trees sweep across the stage, there are swift switches from the five-strong cast, particularly Justin Salinger, who leaves the stage as the woodland-wandering Wilhelm only to reappear several seconds later, in full female dress, as Hansel and Gretel’s evil stepmother Marta.

Dylan Kennedy provides a hopeless Hansel who eats his way to the size of Augustus Gloop, while his loving and quick witted sister, played by the doll-like Ruby Bentall, constantly strives to save his bacon. They are joined on their dangerous adventure by a horde of forest creatures, from foxes to bears, in the form of cleverly engineered puppets, which give their woodland surroundings an ominous air, while Kate Dûchene adds an element of hilarity as the blundering baddy whose cannibalistic tendencies are never too threatening thanks to her outstanding ability to walk into things.

With songs, silliness and plenty of rhyme, Hansel And Gretel is an enchanting Christmas show full of playfulness and festive cheer that will give even the oldest theatregoer a great time. But, at this time of year, there is only one thing that could trump all this and a house made of sweets; a sprinkling of snow in a children-filled auditorium always goes down a treat and the NT doesn’t disappoint.

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