Dan Bray is back in town with his unique, twisted vision in a crazy, captivating, convention-crushing Hansel and Gretel told around a campfire at Shubie Campground.
The 45-minute PWYC play, whose full title is Hänsel and Gretel in der Garten von Edible Horrors: a Terrible Parable, is staged by The Villains Theatre and North Barn Theatre Collective with Bray directing through Sunday, 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Bray’s version of the Brothers Grimm classic has the evil stepfather (not mother) sending Hansel and Gretel away for insubordination during a time of widespread starvation. When the whiney, quibbling siblings end up lost in the forest, a gingerbread character arrives to help them or will this cookie crumble?
Bray uses a lot of dark comedy with some sinister elements. He playfully inserts today’s terms like misogyny and non-binary into a Middle Ages story. He references theatre itself with the stepfather accusing his children of breaking the fourth wall.
The wordplay is clever and fun as Hansel and Gretel speak both German and English with the idea that they are teaching their blanket-covered audience, seated in camp chairs, a new language.
The energy is manic. Rachel Lloyd’s Gretel, in her flower crown and Dirndl dress, is a dynamo with a flair for her fierce and demented character and with terrific physicality. Gretel sings (not well, as Hansel acknowledges) and moves to the soundscape/ music of Die Boogiemeisters (Ian McFarlane and Laura Stintson) with jerky expressionist dance gestures. This has to be seen to be believed.
Colleen MacIsaac, who is The Villains’ artistic producer, while Bray is artistic director, plays Hansel with a lot of held-in energy as a blustering boy eager to criticize and desert his sister when the witch agrees to feed him candy.
Also in the cast are Dorian Lang as the step-father and the witch – a magical, fearsome creation of a cloak and a giant head with a moving mouth; Noella Murphy as the mother and the bouncy Gingerbread Man and Madeline Tench as Grampa Storyman.
Key to this Hansel and Gretel is the highly creative puppetry by McFarlane and Stintson, international theatre makers, puppeteers and scenographers who formed the North Barn Theatre Collective (Troubling Joy, Late Night Radio) in the Ohio Valley, Antigonish, spring of 2020. Their whimsical and original live music is a wonderful, comic dialogue with the characters.
This parable and was first performed to sellout audiences in Antigonish, where writer/director Bray is living and learning to speak German.
The entrance to the Shubie Campground is at 30 John Breton Drive, Dartmouth, (not Locks Road); for tickets go to tickethalifax.com. All audience members need to show proof of vaccination or official medical exemption. The play is not intended for young children, as it contains the same violence as in the original fairytale and is rated PG. (Teens would likely really enjoy it for its irreverence, offbeat sense of humour, high energy and creative storytelling style.)
In case of rain, the event will be moved to a rain venue (TBD), the decision being made by 4 p.m. on show days. Described audio is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.