Opera North’s new production of Hansel and Gretel premiered at Leeds Grand Theatre yesterday, and our reviewer was there to see it.
The first thing you need to know about Hansel and Gretel is that it’s not a traditional opera. This is a big, bold, colourful production that brings opera into the modern day – and it does it in absolute style. The characters are brilliant, from the chastising but ever-playful Gretel to the brave young Hansel and the wickedly hilarious Witch, they’re full of life and fun to watch – but it’s not just the performers that demand your attention in this innovative new production.
Like The Snow Maiden before it, Hansel and Gretel uses video to set the scene, but here, it’s become the cornerstone of the whole production. Don’t expect our two young siblings to go out into the forest, leaving breadcrumbs in their wake, because this is a very different take on the classic tale – as Hansel and Gretel create their own imaginary world with a handheld camera.
It’s streamed live from the camera and projected onto the set, so you can see what they see – and they’ve been incredibly inventive in the way they’ve used it. There are times when the audience and the performers are one, as we watch the stage spin in dizzying circles while they dance, and yet more when it’s used to create their world. Hansel weaves around plastic Christmas trees and decorations to create a moving forest on the house behind them, he zooms in on the loaded fridge to form the Witch’s house from junk food and even captures the untimely demise of the wicked Witch with an explosive exit.
But even better than the scenery are the performers themselves. Never before have we seen their expressions in such technicolour detail. At times, it’s laugh out loud funny, at others, it’s more reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project, and it certainly proves that there is more to opera than singing – this is immersive theatre, set to Humperdinck’s hummable score.
Which brings me neatly onto the music. One of the things that Hansel and Gretel does incredibly well is remind us that there’s a live orchestra in the pit. It is, of course, the Orchestra of Opera North and they played beautifully, with entire sections of the opera dedicated just to them. The opera actually starts with an extended intro, and all you see is the black curtain, making you focus in on the music – then later in the production, they fill the stage with the children’s dreams as they sleep, while the orchestra play below.
As for the singers, Katie Bray and Fflur Wyn, did an excellent job as our lively leads – it can’t have been easy, they spent the night zipping from one side of the stage to another, playing tug of war with teddy bears and singing from the most challenging positions. Susan Bullock made a rather awesome Witch too, bringing a big dollop of comedy to the role alongside her soaring voice.
All in all, Hansel and Gretel is a great night out and one I’d recommend, even if you’ve never been to the opera before. It’s surprisingly short, coming in at just 2 hours, and sung completely in English, which makes it particularly easy to follow.
Hansel and Gretel runs until Saturday 25th February 2017 at Leeds Grand Theatre. Tickets start at just £10 for under 30s or £15 for everyone else – and if you’re quick, you can bag some of the best seats in the house for £20, with a free glass of prosecco and 50% off your food at Manahatta.