Wednesday 7th December; an exciting day for Cambridge, with the opening night of the Junction's Christmas season and fabulous family show Hansel and Gretel, and a very exciting evening for me as I was lucky enough to sample the VIP showing of this festive treat by the New International Encounter theatre company.
Being about that time in December when I start craving a bit of Christmas spirit to spur me into action, the show was a welcome start to the excitement of carol singing, Christmas lunches, mulled wine and panto. But also *so much more* than that. I was so pleasantly surprised by the delights the Junction had in store for us - starting with a gorgeously decorated foyer, delectable mini mince pies and my first mulled wine of the season (which was absolutely delicious). We were welcomed by the Junction's general manager and the show's creative director, with some lovely tales of the journey the team and the well-known fairy tale had taken together to reach the stage tonight.
I was enjoying the glow from such a warm welcome, the mulled wine and general atmosphere of goodwill, that I barely noticed that we were being called to our seats. In German. And Spanish. And maybe English too. Perched on the second row in the intimate J2 venue, the set was a magical feast for my eyes. Think snow-scattered branches and tree stumps, a country cottage stove, metal bed stead, and an intriguing array of musical instruments peeking out from behind the scenery. The audience - a mix of adults and kids - buzzed with excitement as the five-strong cast plucked, pumped and puffed their impressive instruments, creating a gorgeous and evocative narrative of traditional European folk music. The warmth and energy of the performers was instantly obvious; I settled into my seat with a "good feeling about this"... My German-speaking companion felt the same.
I won't give it all away. After all, there are about four weeks worth of show dates left. But also because it is very difficult to put this unique show into words. We all know the story of Hansel and Gretel; but never has it been told in this way before. The show is delightfully funny - set in an Eastern European forest and dipping in and out of English, German, Spanish, Czech (?) dialogue, and in and out of character in places with an air of effortless improvisation, the five performers are incredibly good at endearing the audience to the narrative, the jokes, the whole comraderie of what they are trying to achieve. The acting is beautiful - Hansel and Gretel, played by adults and represented by two quirky and appealing puppets, are so heartbreakingly eloquent and capture the naivety of childhood perfectly. Four year old Gretel is played so well, you really believe a grown woman is, um, a cute four year old called Gretel. Holding the whole show and story together is the hilarious and absolutely ingenuous narrative and music - some fantastic one-liners, combined with an entertaining array of songs and unexpected sound effects, bring the performers and the fairy tale to life in a fascinating way.
This is by far the best Christmas show I have ever seen. The accessible humour and just the right amount of audience participation makes Hansel and Gretel perfect for the whole family. Judging by the excited noises and unwavering enthusiasm of the child sitting in front of me, and of the ladies sitting behind me, this beautiful and clever show is set to be a huge success.
Ahhhh. Now to tackle decorating the tree...
For more details about Hansel and Gretel at the Junction see www.junction.co.uk and to find out more about the fantastic NIE theatre company see www.nie-theatre.com