Hansel and Grettel


Lyric Theatre, Belfast ***

Plenty of dry ice, a few hummable tunes and lots of slapstick comedy – Hansel and Grettel fulfils the basic recipe for a high-spirited Christmas musical. Apart from the bare bones of the story – two children are abandoned by their parents in a magic forest, lured by a witch with a taste for juvenile flesh – the action owes little to the austerity of the original Grimm fairytale. That’s probably no bad thing. When the young pyjama-clad pair make their first attempt to return home, their mother – a chubby peasant with Nordic blonde plaits and a fine range of pop-eyed facial expressions, played for laughs by Christina Nelson – shouts “oh bugger!” in a gruff Belfast rasp, and fires a gun out the window at them. This is an auspicious start: tradition demands that Christmas plays have a strong vein of hammy rudeness, and this one is no exception.

In performance terms, Hansel and Grettel is an old favourite: Paul Boyd’s musical has been staged in eight professional productions since it premiered in 1997, and it is consistently popular. The big set-piece songs, while not the stuff of showbiz dreams, are perfectly serviceable, and keep the story bouncing along at a fair pace. The cannibal witch herself – “I’m not fussy about who I eat” – is played with glamorous, Bassey-esque aplomb by Jane Milligan, all slinky hips and sinister sequins, while a frog who thinks he’s Elvis (Tommy Wallace) sports an absurdly large quiff and a truly atrocious Southern accent.

There are a few cute comedic touches: Hansel and Grettel are surprised to encounter human-size birds in the forest, but are told that everyday birds aren’t small, they’re just far away. And the set is inventive: the action takes place between the pages of a giant open book. But it’s the “mega-mix” finale, an exuberant song and dance reprise of the entire story, that really captures the audience and carries them on to delighted final applause.

Until January 13th

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