editor:- some tickets still available!
I'm still catching myself chuckling after last night's opening performance of Audlem Theatre Company's Hansel and Gretel...
Far from the original dark tale of child-eating witches and 'death by AGA', this version of the classic fairy tale sees the abandoned children cutting their losses after repeated attempts to find their way back home from the woods. Rather than risk being rejected by their father and wicked step-mother once again, Hansel and Gretel decide to seek refuge with their Auntie Ma Kipling in Bakersville instead. Whilst there, they stumble upon a devious plot to sabotage Ma's dream of winning The Great British Bake-off, and try their best to ensure that their new-found relative doesn't have to shut up shop and leave town for good.
Hansel and Gretel is a very silly, but enjoyable romp into the world of bellicose baking, royal romance and devious duplicity. There's plenty of slapstick, groan-inducing 'Dad jokes', customary innuendo (of course!) and all the other usual hallmarks that make up the traditional British pantomime, complete with references to local landmarks and current events.
Trevor Hough plays the formidable Ma Kipling with exuberant gaiety and exhausting enthusiasm, whilst Lesley Davenport's Charlotte Kipling is hilarious as the wide-eyed (and slightly unhinged!) superfan of Prince Percipan, who is performed with brilliant genial naivety by Luke Murphy.
Paul Turner is loathsome tax-collector Percy Pretzel, a Cockney scoundrel who relishes his job, especially when the poor townsfolk are unable to pay. He's a man on a power-trip, who loves to make tenants squirm and Paul plays this role with knee-knocking menace.
Watch out for Lottie and Emily Hall, playing Jimmy Dodger and Saffron Allspice respectively, as their vocal performances are simply breathtaking and sure to induce goose-bumps!
The main 'baddie' is played by Stuart Furber as Barry Bagel, the crafty, egocentric rival for Ma Kipling's Bake-off crown. He does so with great stage presence and performs the character with straight-faced buffoonery. Bagel is flanked by lackies Dough and Nut, played by Rebecca Dutton and Amelia Hassall. This is a comedy duo with great chemistry, and the real ability to bounce off each other...the physical comedy scenes are superb.
Speaking of double acts, I thoroughly enjoyed the antics of Sargent Scone (Helen Katterloher) and Constable Crumpet (Sue Poole), the work-shy, dim-witted officers tasked with keeping the mean streets of Bakersville clean, which they do with fabulous diffidence!
Help is also at hand in Gingerbread Wood, in the form of Witch Allspice (Helen Meyrick). She's a cantankerous yet kindly old bat who deals in surreptitious spells and doesn't take kindly to young rapscallions taking chunks out of her biscuity dwelling.
But the real stars of the show, it has to be said, are the two young talents playing the characters in the show's title roles, Tobias Dinsdale and Hannah Pascall. Both perform with a professionalism far beyond their years and really are a delight to watch.
The youngsters making up the chorus groups are remarkable, and have even written their own funny skits between the main scenes...there are some future stars in the making there, I'm sure!
In summary, Hansel and Gretel is a charming and warm-hearted production by a gang of local amateur actors who just want to make their audience laugh. It's a show that is impossible not to love.
The Anderson family
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