Hansel & Gretel: Fairytale Detectives opens with a noir-influenced film setting the scene in Grimm City, where bad things are happening to the Queen of Hearts and Humpty Dumpty amongst others.
Suddenly the screen moves away to reveal the cast behind and we’re beckoned to join the leaders of our allotted teams. Led by Gwion Bach, Shells, Pinocchio and Little Red we must join forces to find out who’s behind a series of crimes in a tough 1940s town ruled by Mayor Cole.
The play takes place in promenade through 26 different spaces within the theatre, so each team and also sub-groups within each team will get a different experience.
Our team Oceana was led by Shells, a mermaid of the brave and energetic variety with a stylish outfit reboot to match these modern sensibilities. Both my daughters adored Shells, played by Nicole Sawyerr, who was a big hit with all of the children in the group. Some of the children were better than others at getting to the front of the action, but Sawyerr took care to include each child in a storyline related task, which as a parent I appreciated.
The journey involved making jam tarts with the Queen of Hearts, setting a trap to catch a thief, some light waitressing and subtle interrogation of witches. The best part was working together inside a giant spider’s web to override the mayor’s security system: a Crystal Maze meets team building session meets the Surrealists moment.
Unfortunately it also involved a fair bit of standing around in corridors – less so for half the group who went on other missions – which combined with the heat I found stifling on more than one occasion.
I believe this is Theatr Clwyd and Paper Finch Theatre’s third annual joint interactive Christmas production. I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this production half as much as last year’s Snow Queen, but the children enjoyed it more, and that’s what’s important.
For me there were quite a few periods where not much was happening and where the atmosphere was dark. It lacked the bustle and magic of last year’s production and missed the charisma, charm and humour achieved through more interaction with the audience from more of the actors, more of the time.
The design in the main staging area was clever and stylish with 1940 style neon adverts bearing slogans playing on the fairy tale theme. However the overall effect was a little lacklustre.
In this production the audience’s imaginations were relied upon rather than them being swept up in continuous action – which worked amazingly for the children but (I wish I wasn’t obliged to say) not for me.
Writer and director Joe Bunce and musical director Eben James, who also played Gwion Bach, delivered an array of catchy and inclusive tunes. I really missed the eccentricity and humour of Joe Bunce himself, though understand he may not want to be like Dennis Waterman in the Little Britain sketch – write the play, direct the play, star in the play!
As a feminist mother of girls who’s interested in politics I hugely enjoyed the resolution to the play which I won’t spoil for you. Let’s just say that sexist fairy tale tropes are turned on their heads and a character who employs the scapegoating and divide-and-rule tactics of Trump and Farage gets his comeuppance.
Unlike the theatre’s pantomime, this isn’t a blast for all ages, but it is a magical experience for children of 11 and under, which is the aim of the game. My daughters certainly had a great time and it was a pleasure to see their imaginations run wild as they joined in the action.
Hansel and Gretel is at Theatr Clwyd until January 6.
Main image: Nicole Sawyerr, Luke Murphy
Credit: Brian Roberts
This review is supported by Wales Critics Fund