Hans and Gret by Lally Katz.
Directed by Clare Watson. Designer Jonathan Oxlade. Composer, Sound Designer, Sound System Designer Brendan Woithe. Lighting Designer Richard Vabre. Movement Consultant Larissa McGowan. Dramaturg Sam Haren. Windmill Theatre and Sandpit. Queen's Theatre. Adelaide Festival March 3 - 12 2023
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
What price would you be willing to pay to stop the ravaging stride of ageing? Lally Katz’s contemporary take on Hansel and Gretel utters its warning to a new generation. Temptation and seduction are on hand to satisfy desire and lead you along the path through the woods to certain peril. Each member of the audience is given a device with earphones through which to hear the disembodied voice of the narrator, who gives instruction to the audience during the performance. A short survey ascertains age, food preference, bedwetting propensity, relationship to parents and incidents of running away from home. Are you an extrovert or introvert? And so the scene is set, the curiosity aroused and the personality exposed. Like all good fairy tales, Hans and Gret is about to begin with Once Upon A Time.
|Jo Stone, Dylan Miller, Temeka Lawlor and Jim Smith in Hans and Gret|
Designer Jonathan Oxlade’s impressive design of a tall reflective structure in the middle of the Queens Theatre’s starkly concreted space lights up to reveal a modern family, protected inside their gated community from the outside world of gangs and dangers. It presents a contemporary aspect of a society confined to the security of their middle class affluence. It is a world consumed by anxiety. This is Katz’s dystopian view of a not too distant future where humans fear the dangers of the outside wood that is their world. The play begins when the mother (Jo Stone) has returned from a facial and treatment to make her younger. She is preoccupied by her appearance. Hans (Dylan Miller) is preoccupied with his app and puzzled that he cannot contact his grandfather with whom he obviously shares a close bond. The father (Jim Smith) is detached and Gret (Temeka Lawlor), is the rebellious, misunderstood teenager, argumentative and defiant. Katz’s reinvention of the fairy tale centres on Gret struggling to assert her identity, resentful of her mother’s inability to understand and seeking reassurance and love from her girlfriend Sim (Emily Lui). Katz writes with a sharp understanding of teenage angst and familial conflict. Under Clare Watson’s astute and energetic direction the scene is set for a confrontation with the world within and without when Gret leaves the house over an argument about what to wear for her school formal.
But the wood is a wild and dangerous place where the wolf gangs roam. Sim disappears after an argument about a haircut that went terribly wrong and Katz sets Gret, with Hans’s help. on a trail to find Sim. It is a trail that leads Gret to the wild and hallucinatory disco and for help the family turns to an evangelical therapist (Gareth Davies) for help. In a performance that oozes feigned sincerity and cultish charisma the therapist exposes the insecurities of the family with surgical insight and lures Gret into his malevolent house of horror, the witch’s experimental laboratory to discover immortality. Gret is faced with a dilemma which appears to be a puzzling inconsistency in Katz’s moral to the story.
|Temeka Lawlor as Gret and Antoine Jelk as the kind wolf|
In a final act of self-sacrifice Gret sacrifices her youth to destroy the witch, and yet the audience is presented with an old Gret (Chrissy Page) holding a baby. Will the witch’s quest for immortality simply continue? Is eternal youth the Holy Grail or is it a false illusion? Is the quest leading us down a trail that can only lead to disillusion. Hans and Gret is a modern morality tale that turns the mirror to our own image. Is youth the drug that blinds us to the future? Is Old Gret’s final speech to her young mother a eulogy for lost youth or an anthem for old age. As she hands over the baby is she celebrating life as a passage where the spirit of youth is eternal and every moment is to be lived to the fullest? It is left for an audience to decide.
|Gareth Davies as the Therapist in Hans and Gret|
Lally Katz’s writing is provocative. It raises questions about who we are and how we view our world, questions that only we can answer. It was obvious in the reactions of both young and old at the performance that they were witnessing their lives being played out before them and were entirely engaged in the performance. Life in all its facets is a gift. Youth is one path along the journey. Age another. Both are to be valued.
Internationally renowned Windmill Theatre is a trailblazer in programming outstanding work for young audiences and families. Hans and Gret is yet another example of Windmill’s excellent production values, top quality performances and thought-provoking works that have earned it the reputation of being this country’s leading lighthouse theatre company for young people, and by the rousing applause at the end of Hans and Gret for audiences of all ages..
Production photos by |Claudio Raschella