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September 14, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Hansel und Gretel

theatre

Classic fairytales survive centuries for a good reason: they make a good story. Hansel und Gretel is such a story, full of evil stepmothers, poverty, witches, clever children and morally questionable father figures. The narrative, as it traditionally stands, is easy to follow, however, this new take on Hansel und Gretel leads the narrative to twisted new realms of magic mushrooms and lobotomies. And while I am never opposed to fresh new takes, this narrative was taken to the wrong places.

The original Brothers Grimm fairytale was set in Germany, and this version used the time context of the Nazi period. This is an interesting idea and could have been done well, had the references not come so sporadically and without substance. Mentioning of ‘final solutions’ and some repetitive Hitler Youth-styled salutes are included in jest, but fail to project further depth on the issue that would have justified the time context.

It is not a rare occurrence for racial stereotypes to be used to provoke a laugh, but it gets tiresome when these gags use clichés. Ning Ning, the evil Asian stepmother has married to avoid deportation, and remarks about Wong Tongs and Thai green curry follow incessantly. Perhaps something could have been pulled off here if the actor was able to keep inside the character, but the joke was lost when she let herself laugh in reaction to the audience. Further racial calls are made with the character who plays the witch, who is introduced as “an immigrant that can’t be seen in the dark”. If these racial jokes are purposely included to correspond with the racism of 1930s Germany, then a connection is not clearly made. Instead, they come off as lame, unnecessary and bordering on offensive.

A sign of a good show is found in the way that it pulls the audience in and immerses them into the dramatised world. Hansel und Gretel lost this when the actors continually came into contact with the stage set and detracted from the magic that they were trying to convey.

The production aim was to keep the audience awake and attentive, and it did manage to do this with a good balance of song and dance. The actors can be commended on their energetic performance, in particular the character of Hansel who stirred a few laughs. Unfortunately this was not enough. The production as a whole was lacking in an original script and more is required to lift this show from a high school play to a professional theatrical performance.

Hansel und Gretel
Devised by Short Term Visitor Parking
Directed by Adam Donald
With Shane Boulton, Bronwen Pattison, Aaron Baker, Melissa Phillips and Fern Pakamon Karun

At BATS, 8:30pm, 9–19 September 2009
Book at www.bats.co.nz

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  1. Phan says:

    I wonder if the superb actors who played Ning Ning and the Witch will ever have the opportunity to play such scary, jolting, uneasy and brave roles in their careers again – unless the work with Adam! Thanks for reminding us all of the horrors of the world we live in, herr director. Yes, the reaction for those who sit and watch will be discomfort! Don’t let that make you look away.

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