Hans & Gret @ Queens Theatre, Adelaide 4/3/2023

At the intersection of beauty and youth, a frightful truth is concealed.

Originally published by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, Hansel and Gretel (1812) is the tale of siblings in Medieval Germany abandoned by their parents in a forest. Windmill Theatre Company’s adaptation, Hans & Gret, transforms the dark story into a modern psychedelic-esque fever dream.

Based on a concept by Rosemary Myers, writer Lally Katz has contemporised the classic fairytale replacing its cannibalistic themes with those of beauty and youth.

Director Clare Watson transports us to a part dystopian society. Behind the walls of a gated community, parents reverse age while children disappear. Siblings Hans (Dylan Miller) and Gret (Temeka Lawlor) are led down an enticing forest path and enter a nightmarish existence.

In collaboration with technology and experience design studio Sandpit, the world-premiere performance places the audience at the centre of an interactive journey. We are thrust into a part digital part live-action performance via mobile phones and headphones. The narration is heard through the headphones as the action occurs on stage.

Sandpit and Windmill Theatre expand on the concept with specially curated narration for individuals. At various moments, audience members are instructed to wave their arms, applaud, cheer, chant, and even join the actors on stage. It is a uniquely immersive experience.

Designer Jonathon Oxlade’s set is as innovative as it is spectacular. A clear house—with four walls—atop a revolving circular stage is simple and effective. With each rotation of the stage, a new scene dawns.

Temeka Lawlor is wonderful as Gret. Her performance is highly engaging. We become immersed in her rollercoaster protagonistic journey from teenage brat to heroine. In the supporting role of Hans, Dylan Miller shines. While Gareth Davies steals the show as Witch. His introduction shifts the narrative’s trajectory bringing comedic relief and dramatic licence.

While Hans and Gret is touted as a “psychological thriller pulsing with danger, betrayal, and dread”, it falls slightly short in delivering each component. It is a heavily diluted white-knuckle experience with (understandable) technology issues. While the digital narration ticks the boxes of innovation, synching obstacles result in a mismatch of dialogue on more than one occasion. When audience participation is involved, it fells clumsy and awkward.

Hans & Gret is a dynamic contemporary reworking of an iconic fairytale reiterating the centuries-old moral: don’t take candy from strangers. More specifically in this situation, don’t eat the gingerbread!

Adelaide Festival Review By Anita Kertes

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