Hansel and Gretel

Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, until Sun 27 May;


Like most fairytales, scratch away the surface of Hansel and Gretel and you find something nasty lurking underneath. Edible house aside, the story is filled with fear and adversity - perfect for any theatre company to get its teeth into.

‘The nuts and bolts of the story are really horrible,’ says Gill Robertson, artistic director of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company. ‘The children are left for dead by their mum and dad, then they meet a cannibal witch who wants to kill and eat them.’ Robertson was first attracted to the story in 2005, when she was asked to prepare a show for the National Theatre of Scotland launch. Home - East Lothian was a site-specific piece which took the audience on a journey through an atmospheric forest.

Having won two Scottish Theatre Awards for the show, Robertson felt it was too good to waste on a one-off event. Aimed at ages 8 and over, Hansel and Gretel is now part of this year’s Bank of Scotland Children’s International Theatre Festival. ‘It just really worked as a story so we wanted to do it again,’ explains Robertson. ‘And we also wanted the opportunity to create it in one big space and be more psychological about it.’

The result is a promenade performance, in which audiences move around the venue, echoing the emotions of the two children. ‘We take them on an imaginative journey,’ explains Robertson. ‘Where the audience becomes Hansel and Gretel and experience all their fears of being lost and abandoned.’

To stop things getting too serious, Robertson has injected some humour in the form of a rather greedy witch. ‘She’s truly gruesome,’ says Robertson. ‘But we’ve made her funny as well. She’s got a big recipe book with meals such as “Kids On Toast” in it, and she’s constantly thinking about her belly.’

(Kelly Apter)

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