Hansel & Gretel – Review

Pop-Up Opera
reviewed by Jenni Balow

Why would this bring-it-to-the-people opera group sing in German, when they are touring throughout England? Because it gives the company the chance to come up with the zaniest and funniest on-screen translation of this Grimm Brothers original, you are ever likely to see.

Yay! This is a 21st century Brexit-inclusive Hansel and Gretel, innit? They’re grungy and streetwise, they sing supremely sweetly, and they romp through this well-known story to bring home the bacon, as it were, in under two hours – brilliant!

Pop-Up Opera was founded by Clementine Lovell in 2011, after she watched an opera for the first time ever, when she was 21 years old. She wanted to make it affordable to watch, and especially to widen its appeal, bringing it to unusual locations, and with a different slant on the accepted norm.

Well, she’s more than succeeded, and the company has grown and grown, despite operating on a low budget, so far without a sponsor. From performing under the River Thames in a tunnel, it will this year complete its tour at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The tiny but high-calibre cast includes the richly powerful voices of mezzo sopranos Polly Leech as Hansel and Ailsa Mainwaring as both The Mother and the Witch, the glorious soprano, Sofia Larsson as Gretel, Cornwall’s own beautiful soprano Rebecca Moon as Sandman and Due Fairy and glorious baritone James Harrison as Father.

They are directed by James Hurley, with musical director Berrak Dyer on piano, and simple design by Fiona Rigler, with laugh-out-loud captions written by Harry Percival.

The pace is slick as the action opens at home with Hansel and Gretel, the dialogue is fast and the screen sub-titles are spasmodic. Is something being lost in translation? Not at all, the comic-timing of the captions, with hundreds of exclamation marks, is key to the fun.

The Mother sends the children off to the woods to pick fruit, just missing the late arrival of Father: “What bloody time do you call this?” reads the caption.

Father says his business in brooms is booming: “Bake Off is in town” so he sold the lot.

Meanwhile, darkness is falling and the children are about to encounter the Witch who has a sweet-tooth and lives in a flat-pack knisper-knasper knusperhaus, which would you believe translates into a krispy-krunchy gingerbread house, so they are not out of the woods yet.

As they are lured inside by glimpses of Mr Whippy ice creams, a hot dog, lollipops, Coca-Cola and “more non-brand-specific sugary snacks” will the children be gobbled up or find a sweet revenge?

This is entertainment at its best and wraps-up another quality main season programme at the Minack for this year.