dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Who knew there was a duck in Hansel and Gretel?
Open Theatre's Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel is a light-hearted romp through a somewhat different version of the classic fairy tale. It's Hansel and Gretel all right but with plenty of added elements and lots of gentle humour.
The tale is framed by the Storyteller played with lashings of enthusiasm by Nicky Priest. Holding his leather-bound copy of Hansel and Gretel, the Storyteller is intent on relating the traditional tale – but his cast of actors has other ideas. Defying his descriptions, adding in unexpected songs and even creating new characters, they play havoc to his increasing frustration.
Rishard Beckett and Jessica Rowe are a cheeky Hansel and Gretel, who answer Storyteller back and add their own embellishments. When Gretel is described as weeping, she firmly stamps her foot, refuses to cry and insists she has ideas to ensure the children escape.
Add in Jake Jarvis as the cross-dressing evil Stepmother and Wicked Witch and Luke Greenwood as the Dad who doubles up as a Chef in the gingerbread house and chaos reigns. And to top it all a Duck, played with silent determination by Vicki Taylor, keeps wandering into the story.
To call the Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel a feat of imagination would be an understatement as there are so many clever details. There's the frequent breaks for the cast to build a house, the Duck appearing with an 'Actors at work' sign and a magic nightingale. Plus there's the Mockingbird, played by Charles Craggs as a minstrel-like musician who provides sound effects, music and a comic foil to the Storyteller.
Directed by Esther Simpson, the production runs to just 70 minutes – enough for audiences to enjoy and leave feeling like they would have liked a bit more. Performed in Birmingham Hippodrome's smaller space of the Patrick Studio, it also means the audience is close-up to the actors and the show.
Open Theatre's mission is to create productions where actors with learning disabilities can make the most of their talents in good quality and lively productions. First created in 2018, co-produced with Birmingham Hippodrome, and now launching a nationwide tour, The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel shows what can be done with a creative mindset and a talented set of young people.
The company is now looking at two further twisted tales, again re-imagining well-known fairy tales, and, if Hansel and Gretel is anything to go by, these new shows will be something to look forward to.