FROME’s Merlin company has built up an eager audience for its multi-media Christmas shows, and they have reached new heights this year with Claudia Pepler’s adaptation of Hansel and Gretel.
With an enviable number of young men and women with good singing voices, a powerfully relevant story and some anthems that deserve to have a long life after the end of this production, this is community theatre at its best, proving that a Christmas show can be an inspiring and innovative theatrical experience.
It all opens traditionally, with villagers dancing on the green, but before long the reality of the failed harvest begins to bite. A ghastly weasel steals vulnerable children, and the woodcutter and his wife are starving, trying to feed their children to their own peril.
Hansel and his sister Gretel are taken to the forest and abandoned, and plans to track them go awry. When they come acrosss a cottage made of food, it’s no wonder they succumb.
As well as the doom and gloom there is hope, love and a bit of tumbling comedy from two hilarious pigeons (Dillon Berry and Pete White).
Leading the excellent company wer Jack Brotherton and Poppy Pinkster in the title roles (doubled by Ollie Edwards and Holly Fleetwood), Steve Waterfield as the anguished father, Tracey Rawlins as the evil witch, Barney Nuttall (and James Catley) as the baker’s boy, and Robin Ainslie-King as the really scary weasel, but that is just a handful and everyone involved made this a convincing, moving and hugely entertaining show.
With a huge cast of actors, singers and dancers, original songs by David Hynds and Allison Herbert, additional music by Joseph Church, choreography by Amy Morgan-Bell and stunning “media sequences” again by Howard Vause, this is quite something to pull off. Claudia and her ensemble have done it magnificently.
The production is on at various times until 16th December.