Hansel & Gretel: the film of the production

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For all those who missed the tour of Hansel & Gretel: a nightmare in eight scenes

CLICK HERE

to see the production, recorded at the London premiere in the Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, last October.

The film is by the extraordinary Pete Telfer at Culture Colony. Pete had been cameraman and editor on an animated book-trailer we’d made as a promotion for the original Hansel & Gretel picture-book published by Random Spectacular, and then in 2018 joined the Goldfield Production team to work with me on the filmed and animated footage to be projected onstage during the performances.

Pete followed all stages of the pre-production, chronicling the creative processes and interviewing the team in the lead up to the premiere at last year’s Cheltenham Festival of Music. This documentation was made as a part of his ongoing and ground-breaking initiative at Culture Colony to record significant cultural events with Welsh artists at the heart of them. Without his generosity and tireless effort, there would have been no comprehensive record of the making of ‘Hansel & Gretel’, and all of us associated with it, production company, production staff and performers, owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his outstanding work. Later, Goldfield found a modest budget to underpin Pete’s filming of the Barbican performances, and the film has been edited together from that material.

In 2011 it was Pete Telfer, together with my then partner – and now husband, Peter Wakelin – who encouraged me to diversify my practice as an artist by making some animation tests with my studio maquettes, and my rather clumsy efforts were edited by Pete into a haunting little film with a spoken text by the American poet Marly Youmans. In 2013 he was animation cameraman on ‘The Mare’s Tale’, composed by Mark Bowden to a text by Damian Walford Davies, and premiered in a single, fully-staged production performed by Mid Wales Music Theatre.

When Kate Romano asked me to work with her to create a new Hansel & Gretel for her company Goldfield Productions, Pete Telfer came to the project with me, together with artists Peter Lloyd (papercut puppets), Jan Zalud (puppet-maker), Philip Cooper (scenic design, models and animation assistant), Jonathan Street (animation editor and onstage cameraman), Di Ford (puppeteer) and Oon Cg, (puppet wardrobe). I approached Simon Armitage, who I’d been in conversations with since he’d invited me to contribute illustrations to the Faber & Faber revision of his translation of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, and he came to meet Kate Romano and me to discuss whether he’d be interested in producing a libretto for music yet to be written by composer Matthew Kaner. Simon agreed, and we were up and away.

There were others who joined the team as the work progressed, but these were the collaborators who were in place from the beginning.

 

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‘Not a sugary dream, but a nightmare in eight scenes: make no bones about poet Simon Armitage’s contemporary retelling of the tale most familiar in the Brothers Grimm version. Hansel and Gretel’s plight becomes that of child refugees, whose parents’ agonising decision is to abandon their offspring to give them their only chance of surviving war. Armitage took his cue from the darkly imaginative illustrations by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who has now translated those original visions into a puppet show with new music by Matthew Kaner. In this premiere performance at the Chelteneham Festival staged by Goldfield Productions, what appeared at first to be a slight, small-scale affair in the end resonated altogether more deeply.

Kaner’s quintet of players – strings, wind and toy pianos – were arranged on either side of a screen whose animated shadow play featured first the parents and then the ravenous craw of the archaeopteryx-like witch. On the central trestle table were Hansel and Gretel, wooden puppets barely a foot high that were manipulated by Diana Ford and Lizzie Wort. It was the intimacy of tiny gestures offering expressive detail, in turn mirroring Kaner’s musical mood, that spoke volumes. Armitage’s words are the constantly shining white pebbles guiding the piece; his final verbal riff on light and dark will be even better savoured on the published page. Narrator Adey Grummet – twice bursting into sung lines – emphasised the mix of humour and satire with the moments of dystopian horror, making this an all too timely reminder of some children’s living, waking, starving nightmare. (Rian Evans, full review in The Guardian)

 

10 thoughts on “Hansel & Gretel: the film of the production

  1. Great !!!
    I have already watched it twice. And the second time has been even better than the first. Both Hansel and Gretel, look at each other, and move in a way that makes one want to hug them to one’s heart. And the narrative is beautiful. And the fact that it is mostly read, but the things said by the different characters are sung, is brilliant. And having the same voice for the plain reading, and then for the sung part, even better. At first, the music shocked me a little, as I compared it with the Humperdink music, but the Humperdink score would have clashed with the Armitage version of the story, and I am beginning to love the music too.
    I hope a Blu Ray disk is made with this , and sold through Amazon. This is perfect. I know lots and lots of people who would buy and treasure it, for themselves and as gifts.

    THANK YOU ALL !!!
    Love from Madrid
    María

    • Dearest Maria

      It warms my heart to read that you are beginning to experience in the music and libretto, what I hoped would be revealed by my direction of the production. I loved Adey’s performance in all its aspects. I felt that she brought so many insights to the text and the performance of it.

  2. Just the thought of being able to experience it again makes me full of an – tic – i pation!
    Hooray, bravo and other celebratory words.
    Yours…expectantly
    B xxx

  3. Clive, I’ve just finished watching the ‘Hansel & Gretel’ film, whilst enjoying a late breakfast, and I loved it as much as when I saw it on stage in York. Pete Telfer has done a fantastic job in filming the stage production, and it’s really great to be given the opportunity to be able to see the performance in close-up, as there is so much to appreciate in all the really thoughtful attention to detail, which made for such an affecting stage production. It’s also wonderful to be able to absorb Simon’s words and Matthew’s music, as only being able to attend one performance definitely wasn’t enough for me to fully appreciate all the many nuances of their work.

    I love the choices you made in direction, casting and production design, as the intimacy of the storytelling world you created still conjures up for me the feeling of our ancestors sitting round a campfire listening to stories to make sense of the world; this mood that I experienced in the theatre has transferred perfectly to film. I think you have created something really powerful with your telling of the story, which many more people now have the opportunity to enjoy, thanks to Pete Telfer’s film.

    I send you these words from Ben Okri on the enduring power of storytelling, “The mystery of storytelling is the miracle of a single living seed which can populate whole acres of human minds. It is the multiplicity of responses which a single text can generate within the mind’s unfailing capacity for wonder. Storytellers are a tiny representative of the greater creative forces. And like all artists they should create beauty as best as they can, should serve truth, and remember humility, and when their work is done and finely crafted, arrowed to the deepest points in the reader’s heart and mind, they should be silent, leave the stage, and let the imagination of the world give sanctuary.”

    My congratulations go to everybody who was part of the telling of this tale. Like Okri writes above, what you created together will now live on in the sanctuary of our imaginations, and that, in my estimation, is an achievement of which you can all be very proud. And who knows, from this seed, which has now been so lovingly planted, what else will grow?

    • Sarah, if I were Goldfield Productions, I’d be hiring you as publicity guru to promote the film and the production. The project hasn’t had a more enthusiastic advocate than you, and I thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about it.

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