As with so many other companies, Hijinx Theatre winds down its 2018 with a festive family show. Llinos Mai is handed the writing baton for Hansel, Gedeon and the Grimms’ Wood, a family-friendly but far more irreverent take on the traditional panto. Mai shatters classic fairytale Hansel and Gretel and pieces it back together using characters and tropes from other children’s stories. In this reconstructed version of the fairytale, Hansel and brother Gedeon find themselves stuck in the woods that their overprotective mother warns them against. As they move further into the woods, they come across a cavalcade of weird and wonderful personalities, not all of them with good intentions.
Mai’s script is littered with popular fairytale characters which, especially for children, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Over the course of the show, characters like Cinderella, The Big Bad Wolf and Mother Goat make appearances in fun little set-pieces, some moving the narrative along while others just make pleasant cameos. They all serve a purpose, though, and Mai does a nice job of juggling them all without harming the story she’s trying to tell. Ultimately the play is about family and trust, and it’s the relationship between brothers Hansel and Gedeon that she writes best. Jon Dafydd-Kidd adds to that with the way he directs Danny Mannings and Matthew Mullins – the two acts are so well-cast as the bickering siblings. There’s a touch of Laurel and Hardy about them, not only in their delivery but also in their physical chemistry. Other than some hiccups with lines, the two are a joy to watch on stage and do an exemplary job of carrying the show.
A nervous energy permeates through the entire performance but, admittedly, that is to be expected for the first public performance of a show at this scale. It’s how the cast deal with these hiccups that matters, and they’re dealt with very well here. There’s a togetherness about the cast that really shines through in the production – their willingness to support each other adds to the feel-good vibe that already exists. Of the supporting cast, Sean Williams and Gwen Anslow stand out as the Fisherman and his Wife. The energy goes up several notches when they arrive, with Anslow particularly showing great comic timing. The presence of the Wolf, the Ugly Step-sisters and the Witch is also a lot of fun, though that part of the story ends rather abruptly.
Dafydd-Kidd’s design choices are also well-made. Kitty Callister’s design team do a wonderful job with the set and the costumes, while Tom Ayres’ moody lighting is effective without overpowering the action. Puppetry is used excellently in the production, especially by Amalia Banteli and Geraint Stewart-Davies when playing the Witch. Banteli is great vocally, but it’s the puppet’s grotesque appearance that makes it.
The joy of Hijinx’ production is how it uses so many different theatrical techniques in its storytelling, normalising them for an audience who may not be exposed to them. From the neurodivergent casting to the creative puppetry; from Sami Thorpe’s excellently embedded BSL translation to the innovative use of children from Woodlands High School; all of these different layers work so well atop each other. Hansel, Gedeon and the Grimms’ Wood is another example of Hijinx Theatre’s commitment to inclusivity and creativity in its work, and a very good example at that.