Two of Everything

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2017 is my year of Hansel and Gretel. Two projects on the theme are now completed, printed and available for purchase. The picture book published by Random Spectacular is available from the publisher, while the toy theatre kit published by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop is available both from the shop in Covent Garden and online.

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They share common elements, though have separate characters and serve quite different purposes. The Random Spectacular publication was always intended as an ‘artist’s book’. In it I had the freedom to be as dark as I liked in my expression of the story.

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By contrast the Pollock’s project took a more playful approach, inspired by the traditions of the toy theatre as practiced by the great publisher of paper stages and the plays produced for them, Benjamin Pollock.

The two projects developed pretty much in tandem, as the arrangement with Pollock’s followed closely on my discussions about the book with Simon Lewin. And while there was no requirement from either publisher that the book and the toy theatre should in any way link, for my own part I wanted there to be a bridge between the two.

The Pollock’s toy theatre wasn’t conceived as an adaptation of the picture book. Rather my thinking on it was that the children of the picture book had survived their travails and moved on, travelling to London where a theatrical producer with an eye to the main chance had persuaded them to appear in a stage version of their own story. This ‘back-story’ was not something that needed to be stated in the sales material for the theatre, but was more by way of what I needed in order to better serve the subject. Just as an actor needs to create a history for a character in order to better play the role, so I needed to create a plausible route for Hansel and Gretel from the book that recounts their story, to the toy theatre that presents it in a changed form.

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Publisher Simon Lewin was incredibly generous in his support of the picture book. He was patient with the time it took for me to produce the images, nurturing the project to completion without making any compromises on the quality we both saw as being essential to our joint vision. The design of the book required a lot of attention to detail, not least because of the several fold-out pages that had to align exactly when in the closed position. It was essential, too, that the book lay flat when open, so that none of the image details were lost in the ‘gutter’, which is the valley caused by the stapling together of pages.

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At Pollock’s, Louise Heard and her team were equally painstaking in seeing through the production of the toy theatre kit. The project called for meticulous realisation because three of the six construction sheets were illustrated on both sides, which required precise alignment at the printing stage. Although small in scale I had ambitions for the model to be a fully functioning toy theatre, with 6 backcloths, 2 side-wings and all the characters and props necessary for a performance of the play.

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I wrote a script to be included with the model, and painted a theatre poster for the production.

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I know that all this provided considerable challenges for everyone concerned, and yet Louise never for a moment balked at the extra work involved. The little stage had to be proofed and trialled over and over to ensure the instructions were accurate and that every aspect of the model worked.

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As the idea behind the toy theatre was that it should represent a ‘stage’ version of the ‘real’ story as expressed in the picture book, I made the children the same in both, though they’re dressed rather more picturesquely for their stage adventures than the neat school uniforms they wear in the book.

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The book’s angry mother, with her slovenly appearance and her face pulled taut by the too-tightly fastened rollers in her hair, is portrayed on stage by a plump and mumsy peasant in a headscarf, deeply concerned that her children are missing in the wood, while the visceral horror of the cannibal witch with her prosthetic nose that she rips aside to better smell Hansel with her wormy nasal cavity, in the play is a less disturbing, more traditional fairy tale crone.

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I like the idea that the stage version wipes away the nightmare of what the children in reality endured, transforming it with glitter and evasions into an acceptable entertainment.

It’s interesting to compare the imagery. The palette is far more vivid and toy-like in the Pollock’s Hansel & Gretel, whereas the book takes a more delicate approach to colour.

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The Witch’s house is similar in both versions, though the stage version comes garnished with icing-sugar decorations.

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In the book Hansel is thrown into a cage by a lumbering, zombie-like gingerbread monster, and locked in to be fattened up for the cooking-pot. He suffers the same fate in the stage version, though there the gingerbread men are small and distinctly less threatening.

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While the Witch is grotesque in both versions, for the stage she is less extreme.

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The friendly Duck is yellow in the book, and pink in the toy theatre…

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… while the oven turns from blue in the book to red for the stage, and leaves out the skull and flames of the former.

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It’s not possible to get away from the fact that the original Hansel & Gretel by the Grimm Brothers is deeply disturbing. Hansel’s fate is to be cooked and eaten, but opportunist Gretel shoves the cannibal Witch into an oven first, slams the door and leaves her to be burned to cinders. No matter how much you gussy up the tale with gingerbread and icing-sugar, it has murder, or at the very least, manslaughter, at its heart. In the picture book I tinkered with the details and ratcheted up the horror. For the toy theatre version I toned down the monstrousness and conjured a picturesque world more suitable for a plaything. The two nevertheless remain linked, and for those in-the-know, they’re intended as companion pieces.

You may purchase the toy theatre

HERE

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and the book, HERE

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Out of these twin publications, picture-book and toy theatre, a third Hansel & Gretel project has been born that will carry the ideas explored so far into new and exciting territories and collaborations. I’ll write about it here when I am able. But you should know that the story is not over yet!

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17 thoughts on “Two of Everything

  1. Having been out of the loop for a little while it was a joy to come back here and find such beauties awaiting! You know, Clive, that now we’re all wracking our brains as to what the third part of Hansel & Gretel might be……..please don’t tell me that the witch comes back from the dead?…aaarrgghhhhh!!….x

    • Ha ha! Well, inasmuch that the third part of this project is more by way of a re-examination than a follow-up, and moreover one in which I’ll be working with significant collaborators who’ll have their own take on her, you might say that in a way she does come back to life. After all, Lady Macbeth is dead by the end of the play, but is alive and kicking again when the performance starts over the following night!

  2. Hello Clive and all friends from The Artlog

    I have been through a very long and very rough patch, in every sense, so I stopped commenting and almost stopped reading too. I did not want to dampen the great atmosphere of the blog, as I know I have not been good company for a long, long, time.

    But now most of my troubles are past (not all, of course, but going ga ga with age is part of life, and has to be willingly accepted), so I have returned, and am having a great time going back and forth until I catch up with all of Clive’s images and texts, and with all of the comments of Artloggers.

    THIS IS GREAT. THANK YOU ALL !!!

    • Ahhh, Maria! Peter, Jack and I are just back from our afternoon walk. During it Peter and I talked a lot about our time staying with you and Javier in Spain, and what a wonderful time you gave us. Peter had told Montserrat about Javier’s great grandfather being prime minister, and Montse being Montse, she wanted much more information, which Peter was able to oblige her with thanks to online searching! (-;

      I am pleased that the most corrosive of those troubles that had so diminished your enjoyment of life, have passed, or at least moderated themselves. Enjoy yourself my friend, and let us plan to meet again before too long. Love from Ty Isaf. xxx

      • Javier ( it is Francis Xavier in Britain), enjoyed your visit very much , and he keeps saying “Clive said or did this” , or “Peter said or did that”, as an example of what should be said and done… and he keeps hoping you shall come again soon. Wait till I tell him Peter and Montse have been looking at his great grandfather !

        And as for myself I had a great time. And you brought me luck with my business troubles. And you were great when I got lost, and never protested. Of course I do hope you come again. Soon. And I shall take you to Aranjuez, and get lost, and we shall end up in Córdoba…

        Love back from Madrid.

        • I was worried before we arrived that Javier might have been accepting our visit under protest, given that he likes a quiet life, and that he would accept us politely, though under sufferance because you had asked him to. But during our visit I so enjoyed his company that it’s a massive relief to know that he did not find us too much of an intrusion. I know I speak for Peter too when I say that we feel massively privileged to have shared time with both of you in your home. We were so happy and comfortable, and we loved looking at all the books and the art.

          Thank you again for loaning me your jazzy red spectacles. I was at my wits end in the Prado, finding it frustrating not to be able to read the labels. How stupid of me to have come without reading glasses when I had four pairs lying around Ty Isaf!

          I rather enjoyed getting lost with you. I think the one of the great pleasures of travel is allowing oneself the luxury to be lost, and I knew you would find your way home eventually. And you got us safely to the airport too, whereas in the same circumstances had I been driving I would have got completely confused and never found my way there, and most likely would have pulled into a lay-by to have a quiet weep. Those road signs were terrible!!!! You were magnificent to have found your way to Terminal 1!!!!! You were like a Valkyrie, refusing to be cowed and riding on with not a care in the world!

          Yes please. We would love to come again. I shall have to see what Daniel Broncano has to say about next year’s Música en Segura!

  3. How thrilling. I’ve loved the book and now I can act out the tale as well. Just ordered my copy. Will I be saved in the nick of time, all covered with Clive sugar ice and brave glitter!???? You are a wonder maker.

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