Preview: Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest

Stuart Holmes finds out why a new production of Hansel And Gretel still appeals to all ages, especially when in the right setting

Hero image

Fairy tales are part of our childhood. These enchanted stories are read to each generation of children, still holding their appeal as bedtime stories centuries after they were written. Their dreamlike settings and vivid characters make them perfect material to be reimagined on both stage and screen.

In keeping with tradition, The Dukes in Lancaster will play host to Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest this summer in the neighbouring Williamson Park. Their annual outdoor walkabout theatre will see audiences fully immersed in the action, as they stroll amid the transformed woodland, moving from one magical location to the next.

Hansel (Preston’s Joshua Miles) and Gretel (Chorley’s Jessica Baglow, from the BBC1 series Waterloo Road) will be joined by a cast of The Dukes regulars as they follow the trail to the wicked witch’s gingerbread house. In a modern twist, their journey will expand the central Grimm’s fairy tale, taking the narrative very much off the beaten path.

“Fundamentally it’s about Hansel and Gretel being abandoned in the forest by their stepmother, being unable to find their way home, encountering the witch, then escaping and being reunited with their father,” explains Ulverston-based writer Zosia Wand, who previously wrote the acclaimed play Quicksand for The Dukes.

“They also meet a number of characters from other fairy tales along the way, who either help or hinder them in their quest.”

These extra additions will appear familiar at first glance, but Wand has added her own personal touch and modernised them for the present day. “I re-read the fairy tales and then decided to revisit individual characters. I started to ask questions about what kind of personalities they might have now,” says the self-confessed fan of children’s stories. “I took the basic elements of the fairy tale characters and breathed real life into them. I made up the things I needed and imagined the characteristics that would turn them into real human beings.”

Wand’s personal favourites include the wolf from Red Riding Hood, who has “become vegetarian and is extremely remorseful for his past” and Goody Two-Shoes, the good fairy from Sleeping Beauty, who “has failed to save the princess’s life entirely”.

As with all fairy tales, Wand’s script reveals a degree of insightful social commentary when you scratch beneath the surface. “Fairy tales are meant to be dark and children want them to be dark. They like to be frightened within a safe environment,” she says. “There are very bad things going on in the world, but you know that in a fairy tale it will be all right in the end. Fairy tales are a way for children to explore those kinds of feelings. They’re a very important part of our culture and heritage.”

Wand also believes that the younger members of the audience are unlikely to be phased by the more daunting parts of the performance. “With Hansel and Gretel, the witch sets out to eat them and all the children watching will know that. If we tried to sabotage that in any way we would be letting them down, so the witch has to be simultaneously alluring, compelling and scary.”

In fact, she admits to being more concerned about their parents’ apprehensions. “Generally, it’s adults who are very anxious about characters being dark,” says Wand, having spoken to many parents as part of her research for the script. “I actually want them to remember and experience again what it’s like to be enticed by somebody you know is really evil. I think that will be a lot of fun, but there will be plenty of humour to counterbalance the darkness.”

Despite fairy tales always ending happily ever after, Wand hasn’t done anything to undermine the play’s fiery conclusion. “There’s nothing diluted in the performance. Everything is massively magnified. It’s absolutely going to be suitable for children, right through to adults, but it’s going to be a real rollercoaster.”

Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest, 4 July-16 August, Williamson Park, Lancaster

Interact: Responses to Preview: Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.