Williamson Park, Lancaster
It’s Grimm up North again, as Lancaster’s annual open-air theatre treat goes back to its roots in a land of fairy tales.
Taking a leaf out of several stories writer Zosia Wand and the Dukes theatre team, led by director Joe Sumsion, weave them into the magical woodland settings of the city’s Williamson Park. They’re not the first to mash up children’s legends of course. Everyone from Roald Dahl via Stephen Sondheim and even Shrek has ensured everyone lives not only happily ever after . . . but in harmony.
Hansel & Gretel And More Tales From The Forest is at its best though when it all gets physical and funny, but by necessity of a story wrapped around abandoned children it needs to dip into darkness as well.
Look around you and you’ll see more than one young theatregoer contemplating the implications with a nervous thumb suck.
They’ll give thumbs up though to a wildly inventive woodland dinner scene in which a feminist frog princess, regretful big bad wolf and a swan with its wing in a sling sit down to a riotous supper.
With so many tales to tell it’s sometimes easier to follow the footpaths between the five woodland scenes than the story itself, but designer Alison Heffernan, aided by Brent Lees’ exemplary lighting and sound design gradually make this one of the more spectacular theatre outings of recent times.
The woodland walk between final scenes becomes a son et lumiere experience.
Kieran Buckeridge’s songs and lyrics add their own weight to the production with the song worm of Never Leave Me and I’ll Never Leave You one to carry home in your head.
You can excuse Polly Lister getting all operatic as Griselda the Witch and as the lascivious landlady of Gingerbread House she’s quite at home.
Shelley Atkinson and Guy Hargreaves take similar delight from their creature characters, as does a gurning Gareth Cassidy playing Sidney the Swan and Rumpelstiltskin.
Ella Vale makes a sinuous feline and you can see her effective coaching in the production’s overall movement.
The local tones of Joshua Miles and Jessica Baglow, in the title roles, are as authentically Lancashire as the backdrop of sunset across Morecambe Bay in this spirited summer production.
It runs until August 16.