HANSEL AND GRETEL | London, Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera’s new production of Hansel and Gretel, directed and designed by Antony McDonald, espouses both the fearsomeness and the fun of folklore and fairytale, while dishing up a feast of color and song. The performances are delightfully larger than life, braced by Engelbert Humperdinck’s child-friendly score brimful of earworms.

The production disguises the bleakness of poverty, infanticide and cannibalism under saccharine hues that pop and bubble like fizz candy. That in turn makes palatable the perversity at the story’s center: a witch that cooks young children for dinner and snacks. A welcome and hugely effective tactic, particularly for younger theatre-goers.

As the witch, Gerhard Siegel inflects his powerful tenor voice with the jarring idiosyncrasies of a disturbed child killer. But even though he saunters around in a colorful synthetic frock, beneath all that kitsch the witch is bald, bleak, and very very bad. The witch’s cackling entrance prompted a five year old next to me, who’d been tapping along to the catchy tunes, to shoot out of his mother’s lap and lean eagerly into the show.

But make no mistake. Hansel and Gretel is no walk in the park. The woods are thick with ghastly danger. And the witch is a gateway into the monsters that inhabit our world and minds. This production succeeds in honoring these heavy tropes, while ultimately fashioning a family-friendly spectacle that won’t fail to delight and elate kids and adults of all ages.

Hansel and Gretel is running at the Royal Opera House until 28 December 2018.

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