Out on a Grimm
The ultimate alternative Christmas show, Hansel & Gretel returns to the Junction this December. Phoebe Harper talks fairy tales, forests and folk music with artistic director Alex Byrne
Despite being hundreds of years old, fairy tales are embedded in our cultural consciousness, each one bringing with it wonder and enchantment, but also a shared knowledge and expectation.
For Alex Byrne, artistic director of New International Encounter (NIE), these are just some of the things that make fairy tales such fertile ground for imagination and creativity.
“These stories deal with essential, immediate and timeless issues in life – whether it’s famine or fear of losing your way – while creating a real sense of jeopardy that ultimately enables heroism and fortitude to win through,” he says. “At the same time, they’re just very sweet and wonderful stories.”
Having created five Christmas shows for Cambridge Junction over the years,
Alex is revisiting NIE’s original family-friendly performance from 2011 with a production of Hansel & Gretel.
The show was subsequently met with a rapturous reception, going on to tour around England – and even through a series of small towns in Norway for one season.
Despite a brand-new cast (with the exception of one original member), Hansel & Gretel stays true to all NIE performances as an actor-musician show, whereby all cast members also play live music throughout.
For this particular tale, you can expect a live score of acoustic folk music with an Eastern European feel. Alongside piano, accordion and flute, Alex hints at a series of ‘silly songs’ – including one humorous number from the wicked witch herself on the joys of eating children.
Heightening an all-round immersive experience, the Junction will transform into a snow-covered forest clearing. The seating will be arranged so the audience is sat on either side of the performance as if it were taking place in the round, again adding to that intimate feel.
Although the show is very much an alternative to the classic Christmas panto, there will be plenty of opportunities for audience involvement as you are taken on a magical journey.
“I always try to create a wonderful adventure for the children who come to see the show – many of whom know and love these tales as bedtime stories – but there’s always something for the adults, too,” assures Alex.
The story itself doesn’t stray far from the original work of the Brothers Grimm, aside from a few contemporary points of reference – a cost-of-living crisis rather than a nationwide famine, for instance.
Most importantly, despite the treacherous lure of the witch and the cautionary moral lessons these tales deliver, Alex is sure to draw things to a close on a note of optimism and feel-good cheer.
“Many of these stories can have very unhappy endings, but generally, I want to create that wonderful finish which offers a sense of hope, light and finding your way back home again.”
Hansel & Gretel is showing at the Junction from 6 to 31 December.
Tickets can be found at junction.co.uk/events/hansel-gretel