“You have to be lost if you want to find yourself,” Stuart Paterson's abandoned brother and sister are told midway through his festive stage version of the Brothers Grimm's classic tale. These are wise words indeed, especially as Hansel and Gretel have found themselves stranded in the woods with no way back home. Just how seriously they can take such seemingly sage advice when given by a circus clown called Uncle Shoes whose baggy pants are constantly falling down around his ankles, however, is debatable.
The circus itself isn't quite what it seems, as Uncle Shoes and his fellow performers are under the spell of caravan-dwelling witch La Stregamama, whose main priority is feeding up her new arrivals to satisfy her sweet tooth. Only when Gretel inspires her cowed captors to rise up against her does her power fade.
Dominic Hill's production takes an already dark story and ramps it up to the max in a vivid re-telling of Paterson's play. One minute the circus acts are clambering over the audience, the next they're navigating Hansel and Gretel's flight from poverty like magical sprites operating designer Rachael Canning's scarifying puppets and mobile foliage inbetween banging the drum to conjure up thunderclaps as part of Nikola Kodjabashia's rumbling live score.
Shaun Miller and Karen Fishwick make for a feisty and fearless central pair as they square up to their control freak Step Mother and the bullying La Stregamama, both played with colourful largesse by Irene Allan. John O'Mahoney's fairy king Orin is a quasi Beckettian figure, but it is people power that wins the day in this sweetest of theatrical confections.
The Herald, December 12th 2016