Open Door Opera at the King's Head Theatre Islington
This much-loved fairytale opera had very domestic origins. In recent years various regietheater interpretations have lost sight of these roots, so it is good to see the folky, child-centred focus restored in this lovely pocket version.
Valentino Monticello's Act One backcloth makes the point. Here, in picture book colours, are books on shelves, with Pinocchio and the Angels as book-ends, a roaring fire and above it a painting of the gingerbread house in the woods.
This is an intimate opera house, so we're close enough to count the stitches in Gretel's knitting. The major strength of this production is the casting and direction of the title roles. Laura Kelly's Hansel is a sulky boy, a reluctant dancer at first; Danae Eleni's domestic Gretel chides and cajoles him. The dance sequence, so often twee and tedious, is full of fun and character here. They both sing their roles beautifully, their two voices, carefully tempered to the tiny venue, blend well. And they act every second of the score – gobbling strawberries, scoffing marshmallows, licking up the cream, sharing a broomstick to fly off home at the end.
I enjoyed Ian Massa-Harris's Little Britain witch, too, creepily menacing in his cardie and specs, greedily eyeing the oven-ready lost children.
While Janet A N Fischer made a believable mother, scolding one moment, desperately praying the next, Ian Wilson-Pope seemed uncomfortable, dramatically and vocally, in the role of the drunken broom-seller.
The immortals made the most of their brief moments – Rosalind Coad's Sandman, with her gold dust and nightcap, and especially Alexandra Stevenson's hungover party-girl Dew Fairy, clutching her golden shoes – a lovely conceit.
Not every aspect of Lewis Reynolds' production was as inspired as this – like his lively new libretto, it was patchy. The food parcels were particularly unconvincing, and it would have been nice to have a scarier oven for the gingerbread – a red glow, a little smoke, a panto flash ...
And of course we miss the orchestration [and the chorus] too, though Kelvin Lim was superb at the King's Head piano.
There were a few children in the audience on Press Night – I'd like to think more Islington families would take advantage of this very accessible, over-by-bedtime show. There was plenty of magic, and not a few thrills, both musical and dramatic, to keep the youngsters amused and the grown-ups entertained.