Playground Opera's Hansel and Gretel review


Longborough Festival Playground Opera *****
There can be no more joyous and artistic and educational experience than the one I was privileged to share in at Stratford's Welcombe Hills School on Wednesday.
As part of the educational outreach of the internationally-renowned Longborough Festival Opera this modified version of Humperdinck's glorious opera has been designed to tour various school playgrounds around the Cotswold counties, performing to over 1200 children. I caught up with it at this wonderfully welcoming school for primary and secondary school pupils with special needs on a glorious summer morning, and left afterwards feeling my life had been enhanced.
The children, coming to the show after participatory workshops, sat there glued, entranced, responsive , participating, and joyously cheering the seeing-off of the wicked witch. I will never forget the immediate, awed stillness with which they greeted the moving Evening Hymn of Hansel (the continually lively Marienella Phillips) and Gretel (Rebecca Silverman and certainly a developing voice to listen out for).
Much was understandably altered from the scarily Gothic original. The feckless, downtrodden parents were merely referred to, no hordes of children (only one) came tumbling out of the witch's oven which had been cooking them up in pies, and the witch herself was an endearing pantomime dame, confiding asides to the audience, and whizzing around on roller-skates. Daniel was Holley was charismatically brilliant in this role, bringing his several years of West End experience skating through Starlight Express, and prompting entranced responses during the subsequent Q & A.
Eleanor Broomfield was both the Sandman and a delightfully hey-ho Dew Fairy, bustling the siblings into life after an enchanted sleep in the threatening forest, all stage-dressings brilliantly managed in this resourceful pocket production. When brother and sister opened the inviting baskets representing the gingerbread house two balloons broke free and soared into the bright blue sky. Other balloons remained tethered, festooning this symbol of childish delights.
This whole enterprise was so brilliantly conceived, produced by Jess May (who also led as MD from the keyboard, accordionist Milos Milivojevic her colourful collaborator), deftly designed by Harry Pizzey, and directed with such an imaginative sense of purpose by the narrator, Maria Jagusz.
Christopher Morley

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