Half term treats don’t often come as spectacular as this extraordinary show from Kneehigh Theatre.
The Cornish theatre eccentrics, in a co-production with Bristol Old Vic, have excelled themselves in a hugely inventive and entertaining production which stays close to the Grimm fairy tale while throwing anything winsome overboard with beguiling good humour.
For a start, Hansel and Gretel are lumpy and unattractive and their mother is played by a man. Gretel is a budding mechanical genius with an obsession with inventing unlikely contraptions, including a mousetrap. This talent enables her to get the better of the witch.
The show is presented on a stage which suggests a pirate ship more than a forest, with a prow thrust out into the auditorium and surrounded by complicated rigging.
A two-piece lederhosen-clad band performs on banjos and bagpipes, as well as providing some recital-quality guitar playing.
There are puppets, too – a charming pair of white rabbits who provide a running commentary on the action and the family’s two hens.
Carl Grose puts in a memorable double shift as the father and the witch, with Giles King doubling the roles of the mother and the witch’s bird companion.
Directed by Kneehigh’s founder and joint artistic director Mike Shepherd, this strikes me as the most completely successful production I have seen from what is currently one of Britain’s hottest theatrical attractions.