Hansel and Gretel, Royal Ballet, ROH Linbury Studio, May 2013Posted on 9 May 2013
Entering the Linbury Studio you go downstairs — the whole venue is underground, as is the witch’s kitchen in Liam Scarlett’s new dark version of Hansel and Gretel, where the children are tied up in a dungeon.
Scarlett’s ballet is set in 1950s America, and by coincidence the big news story of the moment concerns three women imprisoned in a dungeon in Ohio. Such things are real, and in the world Scarlett has created the children’s father is out of work and the house they live in up for sale. The mother returns from her job as a waitress and a massive row develops. The children are terrified, but then wild things happen; the Sandman appears and lures them to a small hut in a playground, which serves as an entrance to the witch’s lair underneath.
Steven McRae brilliantly portrayed the Sandman as a puppet with a mouth like a ventriloquist’s dummy, and the programme contains a picture of that famous American dummy Charlie McCarthy looking into his ‘sister’s’ crib. Spooky. The Sandman is an alter ego for Brian Maloney’s crazy but vulnerable witch, and the children are trapped. Gretel manages to escape from a rabbit hutch where the Sandman has locked her in … she takes a knife to a small Sandman doll and all hell breaks loose. The children get away, and after a struggle with the Sandman the Witch goes to lie with the dead body in the oven.
This is a riveting tale of anxiety, compulsion, strange desires and even simple sexual excitement between the washed out father of Bennet Gartside and the lustful energy of Laura Morera as his wife. They fail to find the children, and when the house is sold she’s out of there, with him. When the children return Gretel takes the SOLD sign and turns it round to say Home Sweet Home. Yet still the Sandman creeps back because night-time is a time for dreams, and it was a dream wasn’t it? Or was it?
James Hay and Leanne Cope were superb as Hansel and Gretel, and Scarlett’s glorious choreography fitted beautifully into the confined spaces created by Jon Bausor’s clever designs. In fact Scarlett talks of this as a collaborative venture with his designer, along with composer Dan Jones whose music displayed an eerie quality that fitted the Linbury Studio in a way that some other music has not.
Wonderfully effective lighting by Paul Keogan added to this coherent, intriguing and disturbing work, all hallmarks of Liam Scarlett’s extraordinary talent. It was his first full length ballet, and I look forward in the future to one in the main House. In the meantime I am hugely enthusiastic about my return visit on Saturday to see the second cast.
Performances continue until May 11, but were sold out shortly after booking opened — for details click here.