In 2016 Random Spectacular published a picture-book of my dark re-working of the fairy tale Hansel & Gretel. There was no text, save what I hand-lettered into the illustrations.
The following year Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop in Covent Garden commissioned a toy theatre kit from me, based on the book.
In response to the two publications, Goldfield Productions engaged me to direct and design a stage production. Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes with music by Matthew Kaner and a libretto by Simon Armitage, was created for a chamber consort, a narrator/singer and two puppeteers, and it premiered at the 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival followed by a five month tour.
A matinee at the Barbican was recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio 3 Christmas week 2018.
The following year Design for Today published a hardback edition of Simon Armitage’s libretto that I illustrated, and in 2020 it won me the V&A Illustrated Book Award.
In 2023 there’s to be a major exhibition of my work on the theme of Hansel & Gretel at Oriel Myrddin in Carmarthen. The exhibition is to include original artworks made for the several publications, my project books, maquettes and preparatory works.
There will be many items from the stage production, including shadow puppets created by Peter Lloyd, set models built by Phil Cooper, vintage toys that I loaned to the production and a huge doll’s house, the inside of which I decorated and filmed to represent the interior of the Witch’s lair.
Permission for a loan to the gallery of the puppets of Hansel and Gretel designed by me for the production, has been turned down by Goldfield’s Artistic Director, Kate Romano. She gave dislike of me as her reason. Given that the costs of designing and making the puppets had been paid for out of an Arts Council grant, and given the budget was so tight that I personally paid a costume designer to create a wardrobe for them, her decision seems at best ill-judged. As the director of a charitable trust which has been extensively funded from philanthropic organisations, anyone might expect better from her than this. The exhibition will be especially appealing to children, and for a registered charity to deny a ‘museums accredited’ gallery the opportunity to inspire young minds with such beautiful examples of the art of puppet-making, is not merely perplexing, but frankly shameful.
I approached the Chair of the Goldfield Trust, Caroline Clegg, hoping that she might persuade Kate to change her mind and save the company from public scrutiny into a matter that looks very bad for both of them. It would be hard to tell from Caroline’s e-mail that she and I know each other, having both worked on the production for months when she was appointed by Kate as dramaturg to it. Weirdly, both her e-mails to me make it sound as though we’ve never met before. This has added another layer of the surreal to what has frequently felt decidedly strange when dealing with Kate Romano and Caroline Clegg. Here’s Caroline’s second e-mail to me:
Dear Mr Hicks-Jenkins,
In response to your recent request the Trustees of Goldfield Productions support Ms Romano’s decision not to loan the Hansel and Gretel puppets.
Ms Caroline Clegg
as Chair of Goldfield Productions
Why am I writing about all this now, so long after the event? Certainly not to persuade Kate Romano to change her mind about loaning the puppets. Over four years I’ve several times held out a hand of reconciliation in the hope of encouraging her to set aside resentments so we may together protect the legacy of what we made. I was and remain proud of my work on the stage production of Hansel & Gretel, and want to be able to share what was achieved in the exhibition. However everything I’ve written to Kate has gone unacknowledged and unanswered. There’s been not one e-mail reply to any of my attempts to lower the temperature of her antagonism. She is down a bunker in this matter, refusing to engage, and such behaviour in the world the way it is right now, is not a good look for anyone, let alone an arts administrator. Today I’m writing this because many are beginning to ask whether the puppets are going to be in the exhibition. Luckily because we have an ample record of the puppets in drawings, photographs and videos, they will be seen, though not be present.
It would be easier in many ways just to make a simple excuse for their absences which skates around what’s happened, but I see no reason to do that when Kate Romano and Caroline Clegg should clearly be the ones to explain why they’ve made the decision to hide the puppets from public view.
Simon’s reinvention of the fairy tale, is eerily prescient of what we’re seeing now in Ukraine. The puppets would have meant a great deal to many visitors had Kate Romano found it in her heart to lend them to the gallery, but she did not. The puppets were conceptualised and designed by me, their making supervised by me, in part funded by me and their performances on stage, shaped by me together with puppeteers Di and Lizzie. Kate’s reason for refusing the gallery loan appears to be all about personal enmity, which is troubling in a CEO in the performing arts. Anyone who feels that she made a decision that requires explanation, might take it up with her.
While I find ‘ownership’ a pretty dubious concept at the best of times, I have an instinct that the creator and the creation are bound in true ownership more persuasively than most couplings. How mean spirited of an ‘artistic director’ not to wish to share one of the outcomes of your delectable creativity. Pen and I love your work – and relished your company, way back, driving home from Sue Cunningham’s wedding. Remember? Keep crafting, creating and smiling. Ian Fell.
Oh Ian, how unexpected though delightful a contact after such a passage of years. Yes, of course I remember you. That was such a special day. How we miss Sue and Howard since they relocated to Washington DC. They were here for one Christmas with mutual friends, but distance and the pandemic have pushed more get-togethers out of reach. Thank you for your kind reflection on the business of ownership. It’s not even as though I sought ownership of the puppets – though it might be said that I have more right to them than KR – but just an insured loan to an accredited gallery, which would have reflected so much better on her and her production company than this unedifying display of resentment. The show I directed for Goldfield was beautiful and enjoyed by many. Kate Romano has declined to loan the puppets because she doesn’t like me. No wonder the world is in such a state, when people allow such base feelings to get the better of them. You’re right. The best way forward in the face of this is to keep making, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. My love to you and Penny. Peter has just leaned over my shoulder and says to add his to mine. Stay safe. XXX
You know my thoughts already on this, but I do feel quite strongly that they’re not her puppets anyway, she had no right to claim them as her own, they belong to the production. Her refusal to communicate shows such mean spirit, as if the world needs any more nastiness in these times. Congratulations on the forthcoming exhibition, what a great idea, it’ll be stunning even without the real puppets! With love XxxxL
Love you and Graham, always. XXX
As ‘Rabbi’ (!) Burns once said, ” O, wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us.”
All loves as ever
Thank you Bern. I have much need of smiling in the midst of this.
What a shocking history of disregard and rudeness you’ve had to deal with from the Stapleford Granary Arts Centre. As you rightly say, frankly shameful!
Not the Stapleford, where Kate Romano took up her position after the tour of Hansel & Gretel was over. I worked with her in 2017/18 through her Goldfield production company. But yes, you’re right about the disregard and rudeness, which she dispensed in bucketloads!
You know my thoughts on this, Clive. She also looks like a narcissist.
As always, gazing at your drawings and paintings brings me so much happiness. I could go on and on about them and the ways they delight me so. Thank you.
Thank you Jack. I’m so pleased that the work reaches out to you.
thank you! greetings ana
Dear Clive, Something like this has happened to me a few times. When someone has refused to reply to me. It has made me a bit paranoid. I just couldnt think what I had said wrong. I almost think I must be on a black list somewhere.I wish we could have a debrief sometimes to clear up misunderstandings. By the way (totally unrelated) who is the guy in the pencil study in preparation for The Affectionate Shepherd? A professional model? He’s beautiful. Allan.
Sorry, I’ve only just noticed that I didn’t reply to your comment. There were models for The Affectionate Shepherd, though not ‘professionals’. Just anyone who’d pose for me.