Hansel & Gretel

Date 4th November 2023
Society Dragon Tale Theatre Group
Venue Highfield Middle School, Prudhoe
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Fiona Henderson
Musical Director Bethany Fisher
Choreographer Fiona Henderson
Producer Stu Rutherford-Orrock
Written By Alan Frayn

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Author: Michael L Avery

I do enjoy a visit to Dragon Tale.  This year, a new pantomime to me, a version of Hansel & Gretel based on a retelling by Alan Frayne.  As always, the show at Prudhoe is something of an all-inclusive party, involving performers, audience and the local community.  Pre-pandemic the company used to be huge & it seems to be building up again.  I think I calculate around 40 performers onstage.
 
Hansel & Gretel is the rather gruesome tale of wicked Nightshade (Daniel Gowans) who disposes of children he comes across by turning their bones to gingerbread.  Not nice.  There was one little boy on my row, somewhat  too wise for his years, who was not happy at all about the fate of the children.  Fortunately, Hansel & Gretel (Katherine Hinchcliffe and Kate Woolton) are too clever for him.  They make a delightful pair of siblings who escape their evil stepmother, Hildegard (Fiona Henderson, a late substitute) but venture into the woods where she previously tried to abandon them, nasty woman!  Dare I say she plays the part well!!  Fortunately the siblings are sensible & resourceful.  Their father, Fritz (Ray Moore) is much more loving, but domineered by Hildegard who, it turns out, is under an evil spell cast by the odious Nightshade!  Ray Moore is a suitably downtrodden Fritz.  His mean & sardonic asides are well delivered & the audience sympathise with him.

Something (or somebody) is missing.  Ah, yes!  A  Dame & here comes Peggy Pumpernickel, entertainingly played by Lee Robinson, with ever more outlandish outfits & an enjoyable rapport with the principals & the audience plus a continuing bit of business involving a door knocker (knocker, get it!?) which elicits some adult sniggering!  Peggy has a son, Wally (the name says it all), amusingly performed by Louis Popov who has a natural empathy with the audience & a “prompt and reply” gag which they/we usually manage to keep up with!  Somehow, Peggy also has a delightful daughter, Heather (Betsy Stock) with whom the Prince (Peter McKay) - where did he spring from? - falls in love.  They perform a very attractive duet together.

Nightshade pops up throughout, manfully attracting boos & hisses until suitably dealt with!  An amusing couple of youngsters, Basil the gamekeeper & Nut-Meg the forester (Harry Clubbs and Ben Humphries) wander amusingly through the plot devising hare-brained schemes to make money. Two nasty crows (Russell Crow and Sheryl Crow, another “get it?” from Mr Frayne), all black and beaks, are Nightshade’s villainous sidekicks, played by Bailey Chapman and Kayleigh Hewitt.  I could go on but space does not permit.  Apologies to any participant I have not mentioned.  Everyone deserves to be acknowledged for their contribution to a thoroughly entertaining show with a large group of lively children.  Dare I say, I found the first act a little on the long side (an age thing, perhaps) but, by the end of act two, I was thoroughly  involved right up to  and including the closing routine.  Well done everybody, here's to 2024!