Derbyshire-based Red Earth Theatre has a Christmas residency here as the culmination of its national tour of Hansel and Gretel, a bright, upfront and wonderfully wacky British sign language/sign supported English integrated production for small children.
Children in the audience beg to be eaten by Maud, the frenzied, tango-dancing wicked witch, played with enormous energy by Caroline Parker. Her invisibility cloak makes everything possible.
All the elements of the classic story are here, from the laying of pebbles to the testing of Hansel’s fingers for plumpness, done in inventive ways and full of mad moments. Amy Alexander carries out lightning costume changes and grabs a guitar to juggle the roles of Gretel and the Stepmother, and Stephen Collins, who has such a kindly face, is Hansel. It is the warmth and the childlike nature of this inclusive production that makes it special.
All it takes to create the magic visually is four tubs of varying sizes, one small gingerbread house and a couple of giant lollipops. A pair of bright eyes darting about in supposed trees suggests the spooky nature of the woods. The show engages the imagination and enables children to access it at any level because it is always clear what’s happening.
Verdict: Inventive and inclusive, the happiest of shows for small children