The picturebook of Hansel & Gretel was only partway finished when Louise Heard of Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop and I began to have discussions about the adaptation of it into a toy theatre kit. However, when Louise saw the full extent of the graphic horrors on display in my illustrations for the fairytale, she thought them too dark for the Pollock’s style, and so I went off to try and figure how to adapt the imagery for her. There were no doubts that my original witch with her wormy nasal cavity, would have to to be toned down!
As a preparation to the job ahead, I invented a ‘back-story’ for the toy theatre design. In the picturebook the children, having survived their run-in with the carnivorous and predatory witch, return home to discover that in their absence their father has murdered their mother with an axe! (The book ends with the grisly truth revealed in an image of the ghost of the mother turning up with the father’s axe still embedded in her spine!)
The prequel to the toy theatre design is that the children have run off to the big city to fall in with a disreputable troupe of actors. Persuaded by an unscrupulous producer to sign over to him the stage, film and publishing rights to their story, Hansel and Gretel end up in ‘Victorian’ costumes playing themselves in a pantomime version of their adventures sweetened and given a good dusting of showbiz glitter! Their feckless father and cruel mother are reshaped by the script as being poor though caring, while the role of the witch is given to a ‘character’ actor better known for playing demon kings and therefore well experienced in eliciting boos and hisses from the crowd!
The re-shaping of the picturebook witch for the the cut-out-and-assemble toy theatre, was really just a matter of simplification, dressing her in red for maximum impact and giving her a striped cat. However the pointed artificial nose of her picturebook predecessor remained, though as a part of the actor’s ‘make-up’ rather than the prosthetic that disguised something unspeakable beneath! The Pollock’s witch neither flies nor grows fangs, but she rants and raves and stomps about to great effect, and just as in the original Grimm Brothers’ version of the story, imprisons the children and prepares to cook them, though of course it’s her who ends up in the oven!
The Benjamin Pollock’s Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre Kit, may be purchased
There is also a delightful Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop pop-up Hansel & Gretel card available, based on the toy theatre design and available
By kind permission of Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, The Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre makes a brief guest appearance in the current music/theatre touring production of Hansel & Gretel, with words by Simon Armitage and music by Matthew Kaner played by the Goldfield Ensemble. I supervised the designs, working closely with Phil Cooper (models and scenic painting), Peter Lloyd (shadow puppets) and Jan Zalud (puppet maker), and I directed the production.
Love it! Very canny to soften the horror in that way. Clever design too, it looks both modern and anique at the same time. Sorry I haven’t been here much, but I still love your blogs and read them avidly, just haven’t got round to commenting; now I’m relaxing on my hols I have a little time, with love from the Canal du Midi…..xxxxxL
And of course there is the pop up greetings card too!
Thank you for the reminder, Hilary, and I’ve added it to the post. (-;
What a horrifying and gruesome story!!! I have several 6 year old relatives that will love it!!!!!
Ha ha! As a six-year old I would have enjoyed it too, Rosie, but I have to be careful about recommended the picturebook to children, as some would be rather scared by the more graphic parts. (Though it’s a fact that I get lots of e-mails from parents assuring me their small children have read and loved it!)
Yeah, my unruly rabble of infant school felons should be stamped with a government health warning lol 😁