22 January 2009

Gretel and Hansel

The old old story of the children lost in the woods in some pre-industrially forbidding forest, prey to dangers natural and not so, a tale about consuming appetite, survival drive, the perversion and denial of the maternal instinct... well it´s hard to know where to start in telling you about the play I wrote for Northern Stage, if you didn´t see it. I suppose you could read the reviews, but though they are pretty positive on the whole, they never really quite bottle it, do they? In the sense of capture, not the colloquialism for a failure of nerve. Of course it´s not ever exactly their job to do so. But more than usually with something I´ve been involved with, there was a particular and peculiar atmosphere about the piece, something uncanny, that evades description. Not all the time in every performance, this is theatre after all, but I mean to say that when all the elements came together, that happy collision of performances, writing, lighting, music and so on, the play was quite beguiling and fantastical, and I´m very pleased about that, looking back, but it´s hard to convey after the event, perhaps as should be. In a programme note I played with the idea that H and G is the Christmas story par excellence, in that it is so completely about the two things that dominate the festival, for most - food, and family. But there is also in the play a strong interest in dreaming and sleep, a nice confusion of realities, a dream logic. I so enjoyed writing it - I enjoyed even more the experience of watching Erica and the company show it. Because they ran with it, trusted the characterisations and the text in general, and took the bits in italics, my tentative, speculative ´stage directions´, and made a proper big show with the kaboodle. This is most easily demonstrable at the end of the first act, the bit where I depart from the usual telling of Hansel and Gretel´s encounter with the Witch and have her eat the boy. The script is pretty perfunctory:


I shall dress for dinner. Get everything ready.

The WITCH leaves and her minions ready the scene for supper. A ritualistic sequence. The sense of a nightmare, where a terrible travesty is taking place and everyone but the dreamer thinks it is perfectly normal, routine even.

GRETEL watches on as the WITCH eats HANSEL, whole, in one go.

BLACKIE can be seen covering her eyes with her paws.

As Erica would tell you, there was an astonishing amount of work required to dramatise those few suggestive lines. Eating Hansel became this enormous set piece, during which the poor boy was carried aloft in procession by chorus members acting as kind of pallbearers, the Witch took her seat in a high-backed chair, and to the inappropriately dainty strains of Tim Dalling´s music for strings, Hansel is consumed whole, tipped into the Witch´s waiting jaws by the impassive chorus (her attendants, sort of nasty wood fairies), she crunches and swallows his twitching body, until at last he is inside her bulging belly, and she gives the most disgusting belch, as the light fades, for the interval. Blackie, I should tell you, is the Witch´s cat, in fact a lost girl called Susan, shapeshifted against her will, and Susan Blackie helps save the day in Act Two... also covering her eyes at the sight of Hansel´s demise is The Moon, characterised as a slightly loopy girl of indeterminate age, who comments on the action throughout, and finally intervenes in the story to show the children the way home. The director had a lot of fun with The Moon, I think, who was entrancingly played by Vicky Elliott, and pointed out to me that I seem to have written an awful lot of gods and monsters in my time.

handg guardian pic


OvaGirl said...

SBS it sounds absolutely brilliant. I love the Moon on a swing and the cat girl and most of all the eating of Hansel, brilliant and shocking and hilarious. Yes this would have been so much fun to write and to make and I too love when a brief stage direction is fleshed into some brilliant business... Yay you!

sbs said...

Thanks lady. Stay cool. More pics on the way, promise..