Hansel And Gretel – Abbey Theatre – Review
by P. Viale
An Irish National Opera, Theatre Lovett and Abbey Theatre co-production
The loud thunderclap and unearthly voice making announcements at the start of Irish National Opera /Theatre Lovett’s version of Engelbert Humperdinck’s fairy-tale opera “Hansel and Gretel” let us know that we’re in for a strange and mysterious experience. The seven members of the orchestra in grotesque costumes that wouldn’t look out of place in an Addam’s Family film creep crab-like across the stage towards their instruments and neon signs flicker for the Forest Edge Hotel as members of the cast arrive and register at a desk manned by a sinister Night Watchman.
Like many of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy-tales, Hansel and Gretel has a dark and disturbing side and this is fully exploited in directors, Muireann Ahern and Louis Lovett’s production. The two children come from what would be termed today a highly dysfunctional family with an angry and often violent mother and a drunkard father. The children are starving and the fact that they are housed here in a hotel may possibly be a reference to the current predicament of many homeless people in Ireland. I say “possibly” because, judging from overheard conversations during the interval, moving the action of the story from a forest to a hotel caused a lot of confusion, with many people feeling that it was a forced and baffling interpretation foisted onto a traditional story. As such, it got in the way rather than enhanced what was otherwise an excellent production.
The staging, too, at times caused problems as the protruding centre doors of the hotel blocked the view of the action and backdrop projections from a large part of the audience. However, the magnificent music of Humperdinck and the totally engaging performance of all the soloists more than made up for such niggling irritants. From
the start, the holier-than-thou Gretel (Amy Ni Fhearraigh) and the more boisterous Hansel (Raphaela Mangan) perfectly captured the innocence and curiosity of their characters and their duet, as they say their evening prayer, was breathtakingly beautiful.
Their mother, renowned Irish soprano Miriam Murphy, has the most polished and assured voice of the cast and dominated the stage in her few appearances. She is a consummate actor and was totally believable in her tantrums and bad temper. Her husband, baritone Ben McAteer, was perfect as the irresponsible, drunken father who nevertheless cares for his family and arrives home with a feast of goodies… in this production, a Happy Meal from McDonalds! As the witch, Carolyn Dobbin, was suitably nasty in a pantomimic way evoking hisses from the audience and Emma Nash, in a variety of smaller roles, was equally impressive.
The huge ovation for the small orchestra at the end of the performance was well deserved. Throughout, they captured the playful and melodious quality of Humperdinck’s music perfectly. While some of the older members of the audience may have had reservations about the production, the same was not true of the large number of children present on the opening night. Their spellbound attention throughout and cheers and applause at the end showed their engagement and enjoyment of the piece.
Hansel and Gretel continues in the Abbey until Saturday 15th and continues in different venues around the country until March 7th . A thoroughly enjoyable outing for both adults and children!
Hansel: Raphaela Mangan (Mezzo-Soprano)
Gretel: Amy Ní Fhearraigh (Soprano)
Mother: Miriam Murphy (Soprano)
Father: Ben McAteer (Baritone)
Witch: Carolyn Dobbin (Mezzo-Soprano)
Sandman and Dew Fairy: Emma Nash (Soprano)
The Night Watchman: Raymond Keane
Lost Children: Amelie Metcalfe, Ronan Millar
Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck
Libretto: Adelheid Wette
Translation: David Pountney
Conductor: Richard Peirson
Directors: Muireann Ahern and Louis Lovett
Set and Costume Design: Jamie Vartan
Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels
Video Design: Jack Phelan
Sound Editor: Carl Kennedy
Violin 1: Sarah Sew
Violin 2: Larissa O’Grady
Viola: Andreea Banciu
Flute: Ríona Ó Duinnín
Clarinet: Conor Sheil
Horn: Liam Duffy
Piano: Richard Peirson
Publicity Image: Ros Kavanagh
Rehearsal Images: Ste Murray