BWW Review: HANSEL & GRETEL AND THE WITCH BABA YAGA, St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Into the familiar tale of the brother and sister lost in the forest and lured to a gingerbread house by a witch, writer, Daniel Winder, has stirred a little of Studio Ghibli's My Neighbour Totoro and quite a lot of Spirited Away to create a broader, bolder story that eventually runs out of steam, its running time proving at least half an hour too long.
The best of the show is excellent. Josie Brightwell hams it up for all she is worth as Baba Yaga Korizima, cackling out malevolently Rupertish rhyming couplets in her Wonkaish house as Deshaye Gayle's Hansel becomes more porcine and Rosie Abraham's Gretel plots their escape. The puppet work is also very impressive, giant birds flying above, as we move around the gardens of the Actors Church. I enjoyed the Into The Woods inspired borrowings from other fairy tales, with red riding hoods and other references for the eagle-eyed amongst kids and parents.
But it's so long! Three baba yagas (witches) have to be confronted on Hansel's quest to rescue his sister, and I know I couldn't work out who was who (the names aren't easy to catch in the open air) after the church clock struck nine. There's a lot of existential angst about death, redemption and resurrection too, with a version of the Black Death stalking the town and a paramilitary force keeping order and suppressing women for no clear reason. Concentrating was tough though - it wasn't the coldest evening, but four layers weren't enough to insulate me, so wrap up warm!
We finish inside the church with the villainous monster (designed with a nod towards Spirited Away's spider-like Kamaji) and a showdown to conclude an epic production, the ambition of which is not quite matched by its execution.
It's probably too much in every sense for small kids, but from ten years old and above, it will be an unforgettable experience - I saw eyes widening like saucers as the theatrical magic took hold and dusk brought Rachel Sampley's brilliant lighting to the fore. But.... take a flask of something warm for the kids and warming for yourself!