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Performing arts in Hong Kong

Scottish Ballet’s lively production of Hansel & Gretel will have kids of all ages going home happy

The Grimm Brothers’ tale performed in Hong Kong has been given a few twists and a Scottish flavour by choreographer Christopher Hampson, and benefits from stunning visuals and simple comedy that children will identify with

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 1:02pm

Hansel & Gretel was a well-chosen opener for Hong Kong’s annual family-oriented International Arts Carnival. This Scottish Ballet production offers lively, unpretentious entertainment aimed squarely at children, with stunning visuals, simple comedy and lead characters the youngsters can identify with.

The choreographer, the company’s artistic director Christopher Hampson, has given the Grimm Brothers’ tale a few twists and a distinctly Scottish flavour.

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The setting is a working class town in the early 1960s where the children’s father enjoys a few beers with his mates on the way home from work and he and his wife fall asleep every night on the sofa. The witch first appears as a seemingly kindly schoolteacher who kidnaps her pupils with the aid of magic sweets, then as a beautiful fairy who leads Hansel and Gretel into the forest, revealing her true form as an evil hag (a terrific transformation) only once they are captives in her house.

This is an expurgated version compared to the original story. Instead of being abandoned to starve in the woods by their parents, the brother and sister set out to find their missing schoolmates, who mysteriously reappear after the witch is killed (apparently she didn’t eat them).

Most children’s classics have a scary side and the production could have been a bit darker, although the fate of Hansel’s beloved teddy bear certainly made the audience gasp.

Hampson has created good family entertainment, enhanced by Gary Harris’s splendidly imaginative designs. The nighttime scene in the town was especially effective, with streets prowled by miniskirted girls and a gang called the Ravens in black leather jackets who turn into real ravens to terrorise the children in the forest. Hansel and Gretel and the Witch are vividly portrayed and children will enjoy seeing lots of real food on stage (and on the dancers, too as they cover themselves with cake).

While the production works well as theatre, it’s less successful as ballet. Passages of pure dance for random characters – fairies, chefs, a fantasy scene where Hansel and Gretel’s parents are transformed into sophisticated nightclubbers – are too obviously inserted to pad things out and give the company’s dancers something to do, and the choreography is insipid. The music, taken from Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel und Gretel is pretty but bland.

There were delightful performances from Constant Vigier and Kayla-Maree Tarantolo, who made impressively convincing children in the title roles respectively, with the rambunctious Marge Hendrick stealing the show in her various incarnations as the Witch.

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Families who missed the sold-out shows in Hong Kong can catch the production at the Macao Cultural Centre from July 13 to 15.

Hansel & Gretel, Scottish Ballet, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre.

Reviewed: July 6