The Festival Theatre last Saturday was not the city-centre theatre we know it to be, but rather it was transformed into a German forest full of austere gingerbread men, frightened children and a witch reminiscent in terms of looks to Madame de Pompadour; not your average night in Edinburgh then!
The most striking aspect of the opera was the translation. Not only had Bill Bankes-Jones given the lyrics a fresh translation, he gave them a fresh Scottish translation. Though a lot of the Scots went over the heads of the tourists sitting nearby the rest of the audience was
very taken by moments such as when the Witch took Hansel by the arm and the young boy retorts ‘Let me go you silly cow!’.
The other selling point of this interpretation was the humour the Scottish Opera injected into the German classic. Act 1 Scene 3 was a perfect example of fantastic singing matched with humour. Paul Carey Jones who played the role of the children’s father is heard singing ‘Trallalala, trallalala’ far off before entering the stage, brazenly drunk, firing several innuendos at his wife before he learns of the fate of his children.
The acting, as well as the singing, was tremendous. Though the two children were both played by adults (Kai Ruutel-Hansel, Ailish Tynan-Gretel) the boyish impatience and the stubborn, do-good nature of Gretel were perfectly captured. The only objection I would raise
is the portrayal of The Witch. Though Leah-Marian Jones was fantastic, especially in songs such as ‘Knusper, Knusper, Knauschen.’ the image of The Witch seemed too comical. Wearing a flowing pink dress and tight hairstyle she appeared more like an 18th Century inhabitant of the
Tim Meacock’s set design provided an excellent breath of fresh air to the story. Starting off in a small lodge encapsulated by trees that looked more like something you’d find in Ikea than in a German forest, we were then taken to a clearing in a wood with evening mist starting to encroach the stage. A genius touch was having the trees slowly move halfway across the stage then back, revealing the ghostly silhouette of a gingerbread man. The gingerbread house itself was also fantastically appetising, a tremendous achievement for such a small stage!
I must say I was surprised by the execution of the music. With an opera you expect the orchestra to take it as a chance to play loudly and with much gusto but the performance seemed somewhat gentle.
Despite a few little mistakes the opera was fantastically done and wonderfully Scottish; a triumph!
Rhiordan Langan-Fortune, aged 17
Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, conductor
Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
Saturday, February 18th 2012