Review: Hansel & Gretel and more tales from the forest

Stuart Holmes watches the annual walkabout production in Lancaster's Williamson Park

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The annual walkabout productions by The Dukes theatre have been running for over a quarter of a century, delighting audiences with modern interpretations of well-known tales. This year’s extended version of Hansel & Gretel is undoubtedly one of the most fitting stories to be told within the idyllic woodlands of Williamson Park.

The narrative moves between five well-crafted locations, each providing a greatly contrasting scenario and mood – a sheltered campfire, an al fresco dining room, a fun fair, a witch’s lair and a magical moonlit lake.

Hansel (Joshua Miles) and Gretel (Jessica Baglow) both provide strong central performances which are reinforced by supporting characters borrowed from other fairy tales. Zosia Wand’s original script provides a plethora of references in an overt celebration of the genre which offers something for all ages.

After being abandoned by their father and stepmother, the protagonists meet a series of vivid individuals who are, in every sense, just as lost as they are. Sydney the Swan (Gareth Cassidy) has wandered away from the water after following their breadcrumb trail and cowers behind spectators at times of peril. Heinz (Guy Hargreaves), the reformed vegetarian wolf from Red Riding Hood, now lives a secluded life, providing dining and dancing to passers-by. Hero the Frog Princess (Shelley Atkinson) gives young Gretel an introduction to feminism, delivering plenty of comic relief in the process.

The most captivating performance comes from The Great Grisdela (Polly Lister), the wicked witch, who transforms from a vaudevillian entertainer into a ravenous villain. She is introduced in the play’s central act, where she interacts with the audience to great effect, holding them under the spell of her enigmatic personality.

The behind the scenes team all play their respective parts well. Music upholds the atmosphere throughout and singing is used sparingly to break up the action. Lighting plays an increasingly important role as the night draws in, with its use in the lake’s final act creating a memorable image. The set design takes full advantage of the park’s natural features, whilst the costumes are flamboyant without being twee. All of this is underlined by direction which maintains a suitable pace for a lively walk through the woods.

On a summer evening, The Dukes’ experience in hosting outdoor theatre shines through, creating an experience which truly brings childhood stories to life.

Hansel & Gretel and more tales from the forest, Until 16 August, Williamson Park, Lancaster

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