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Hansel and Gretel Press Reviews

‘This is a big warm hug of a production for a winter night, played with every deference to tradition and concerned mostley to deliver the traditional emotion of a well-loved fairy story with a happy ending…the pace is kept smooth and the narrative clear, abetted by Humperdinck’s ever-welcoming music. Yet this does not preclude inventiveness present in the wit that enhances much of the acting, in the threatening, peripatetic tree shapes of Tim Meacock’s versatile set, and in some deft stagecraft, notably the magical moment when a troupe of angels manifest in silent protection around the lost children asleep in the night forest. Kai Rüütel and Ailish Tynan, in the title roles, capture the alternating blusters and terrors of childhood perfectly, remaining convincingly childlike in their acting while imparting adult beauty to their singing, most notably in the sumptuous prayer duet. All the principals satisfy, with Paul Carey Jones’s laddish father outstanding in a cast eager to squeeze as much fun as they can from the evening. The orchestra handles the rolling orchestration stylishly, never letting the swell overwhelm the singers.’

 

Scottish Daily Express ****
 

 

 

‘Bill Bankes-Jones takes a refreshingly naïve view of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. There are no paedophiles or critiques of consumerism in his new Scottish Opera production…The gingerbread house is made of gingerbread and its imprisoned children wear dirndls and lederhosen. A tear-jerking tableau of benign white-robed angels with golden wings ends Act I, and there’s an unironic merry dance at the end. Nostalgic adults in the audience loved it all, and I was increasingly charmed myself…Kai Rüütel and Ailish Tynan made a game Hansel and Gretel, but the show was stolen by Leah-Marian Jones’s comic turn as the Witch – wittily presented as a simpering rococo dairymaid, rather than a toothless hag. Emmanuel Joël-Hornak conducted a nimble, lightweight account of the score, minimising its Wagnerian pretensions.’
 

The Daily Telegraph ***

 

 

 

‘…it tells the story simply and without pretension…Kai Rüütel and Ailish Tynan portray Hansel and Gretel with a convincingly innocent childish zest, Tynan’s spellbound Gretel, forced to dance in the clutches of Leah-Marian Jones’s cackling music hall Witch, being her quirkiest moment. Paul Carey Jones plays the father with all the carefree thrill and abandon needed to lift the spirits of his weary wife, warmly portrayed by Shuna Scott Sendall.’
 

The Scotsman ***

 

 

 

‘Scottish Opera’s latest Hansel and Gretel takes a refreshingly retro approach to Humperdinck’s opera, sidestepping the supermarkets, shabby housing estates and little kitchens of horrors favoured elsewhere in recent years…Though Bill Bankes-Jones’s production does not lack ideas, they seldom get in the way of the story…With Ailish Tynan’s pert little Gretel and Kai Rüütel’s strapping Estonian Hansel, the title roles are in acceptable hands, and Leah-Marian Jones’s glamourous Witch, Shuna Scott Sendall’s Wagnerian mother and Paul Carey Jones’s jaunty father all add to the modest assets of the evening.’
 

The Herald ***

 

 

 

'It is playfully done, without dumbing down for a young audience. Bill Bankes-Jones’ new English translation is vulgarly appropriated and the tone is unerringly upbeat. Kai Rüütel as a boisterous, naughty Hansel and Ailish Tynan as a timorous yet easily-led Gretel find a sense of playful spirit for their children…Once into the woods there is some sense of darkness. Moving and interior-lit tree trunks combine with Mark Doubleday’s inventive and atmospheric lighting design to set the tone, while slow-moving angels at the end of Act II are more unsettling than reassuring. Candy-cotton vitality is returned for Act III with Leah-Marian Jones’ Witch straight out of Oz and insinuating her cruelty rather than flaunting it. A joyful production that makes no blame on the family in their impoverishment, but revels in their happy outcome.’

 

The Stage

 

 

‘Tim Meacock’s sets were handsome: huge towering tree trunks made of rough wooden slats that shift continuously. Dwarfing and disorientating the children (who, like us, can’t see the top of the trees), they frame the tale’s three locales (family home, thick of the forest and gingerbread house). The heart of the opera – act two’s beautiful nocturnal scene, when a serene host of 14 gold-winged angels shuffle around the sleeping children – was elegantly done…the singing was strong. Kai Rüütel and Ailish Tynan are an endearing title pair, vocally well matched...they had a sweet complicity between them. There were fine contributions form Paul Carey Jones as the boisterous father and Shuna Scott Sendall as the fretting mother, while Leah-Marian Jones played the flirtatious witch with vocal might and flair.’

 

The Guardian *** 
 

 

'[Director Bill] Bankes-Jones knows his craft. He listens intently to the music, renders the text in his own perky, well-fitting translation, and unfolds the action with the kind of fidelity and natural characterisation latterly associated with Peter Stein. He also reminds us that the story stems from the Brothers Grimm, an inspiration reflected in Kally-Lloyd-Jones’s goose-bump-inducing "dream pantomime" and Tim Meacock’s engaging designs, dominated by mobile columns representing tree-trunks. Kai Rüütel and Ailish Tynan make a well-blended title pair, supported by Paul Carey Jones and Shuna Scott Sendall as the parents. Leah-Marian Jones, who sang Hansel in a previous Scottish Opera production, is reincarnated as the Witch – glamorous and candy-like, with a vivid cackle. She sets the seal on a memorable night.’

 

Financial Times ****

 

 

‘Productions elsewhere might ramp up the darkness of this Grimm tale of the child-eating witch, but Scottish Opera resoundingly rejects such disturbing conceits in a new production that largely lets the warmth of Humperdinck’s 19th-century score of threatened innocence speak for itself. Director Bill Bankes-Jones’s Hansel and Gretel is intimately folksy, a rudely physical world where family is sanctuary, for all the poverty and grime. Darkness comes (crucially like Humperdinck’s) in subtle underscoring, from the suggested wife and child-beating that seems an extension of daddy’s merry woodcutter-style Bavarian thigh slapping, to the…spookily effective moving trees of the enchanted forest. Ailish Tynan’s impish, sweet-toned Gretel and Kai Rüütel’s work-shy Hansel are all blithe innocence and vulnerability…The conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak stokes warmth, drama and darkness from Humperdinck’s ravishing score, and the singing, led by Tynan, is very sound, including the sweet voices of the lederhosen-clad children’s chorus. The lovely Evening Hymn is exquisitely sung by Tynan and Rüütel…’

 

The Times *** 

 

 

 

‘Scottish Opera’s new production from Bill Bankes-Jones, who has also provided a fresh translation, took us firmly back to Humperdinkc’s original conception, with a traditionally told story…Designer Tim Meacock produced a simple but effective set of large, planked tree trunks soaring skywards, which shifted about uncannily in the forest scenes, unnerving the lost children. It was enhanced, in the opera’s genuinely frightening centrepiece, by spectacularly eerie lighting from Mark Doubleday. ..Estonian Kai Rüütel was a convincingly boyish Hansel and Ailish Tynan a sweet Gretel. Both were very finely sung and they connived well together…As the children fell asleep in the forest, they were watched over by the fourteen angels from their dreams who appeared in white with gold wings, in an unforgettable tableau at the end of Act Two…The Witch, comically sung by Leah-Marian Jones, gave us a real star turn of a performance… the well-loved tunes and charm of this enjoyable and finely sung production quickly won over a busy Theatre Royal in Glasgow where there was plenty of loud cheering at the end. Great fun.’

 

Bachtrack ****

 

 

‘Presenting a new English translation of Engelbert Humperdinck’s acclaimed 1893 opera by the production’s director Bill Bankes-Jones, Scottish Opera provides a remarkably fresh yet faithful vision of the fairytale. Bankes-Jones’ main concern has been capturing the realistic relationship between family members that has so endeared audiences to the story, a feat which he achieves admirably. The quick turn from fun to fighting between Hansel and Gretel is delightful to witness and their parents’ engaging banter is easy to identify with.’

 

Edinburgh Evening News **** 

 

 

‘ [Director] Bill Bankes-Jones’s new translation uses simple language that remains true to the original. Unlike the conceptual David Pountney version, set in a 1950s housing estate, this has dirndl skirts, lederhosen and the frank inter-sibling debate that is familiar from the back seat of any car. Hansel (Estonian mezzo Kai Rüütel) and Gretel (Irish soprano Ailish Tynan, fresh from the role at Covent Garden) are a sparky pair, ignoring their chores and riving their mother bonkers. Shuna Scott Sendall brings a real maternal weariness to the role…[Designer Tim] Meacock and Bankes-Jones’s other masterstroke is to drop the green nose and pointy hat to create a terrifyingly saccharine witch. A show-stealing Leah Marian Jones seduces and charms, wiggling her way around her icing-encrusted home with a sweetness that chills. In her pink stripy bustle she is Truly Scrumptious and the Childcatcher rolled into one…At the end, when there is a reall puff of smoke and the gingerbread men on the witch’s fence become little boys and gilrs…It feels like a properly happy ending, something we could all use a bit more of.’

 

The Independent ***