Scottish Ballet eat, breathe and sleep whatever production they happen to be working on. And when Hansel & Gretel was finally unwrapped for Christmas 2013, the magical posters, videos and photographs had already been enticing us for months before the big reveal.
So while I was sitting having afternoon tea at Glasgow’s Blythswood Square Hotel at a specially arranged Scottish Ballet bloggers event and having a quick read through their souvenir brochure – it was no surprise to read the words of production designer Gary Harris, who said :
“It’s something I love doing so it’s not like working. It goes right through your life – it’s everything and makes me realise I’m so lucky to do what I do”.
It was also no surprise to find myself sipping a delicious Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail while munching on gingerbread men and carrot cake with popping candy – all created with Hansel & Gretel in mind.
It was a lovely way to spend a wet Saturday afternoon in Glasgow just before Christmas. Blythswood Square became the Clubhouse for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club (RSAC) from 1910. Now a hotel and spa, it’s a decadent escape from the busy city centre with its throng of shoppers.
Unlike some afternoon teas, this was a substantial one. There was plenty sandwiches, mini scones, little pink macaroons and lots of sweet treats to accompany your tea or coffee.
And sometimes you just have to have a gin in the afternoon, especially if it’s dressed up as a Woodcutter’s Wife Cocktail. This concoction was made up of Martin Miller’s Gin with Amaro Nonino, fresh lemon juice, lemon curd and ginger syrup, candied peach puree and a splash of egg white. Delicious.
The hotel is also home to a gorgeous spa with a vast array of treatments as well as a thermal experience. Newly introduced to the hotel is a range of products from the Isle of Lewis called Ishga – a name derived from the Gaelic word for water.
To make us feel really pampered some of the therapists were around to give us a hand and arm massage
We also saw some video clips showing little snippets of what it takes to breathe life into a ballet production.
Then it was time for a chat with some of the ballet dancers. Christopher Harrison and Constance Devernay joined us, alongside Scottish Ballet’s Marketing & Communications Editor, Christina Riley for a Q&A session. Here Constance talks about how to get into the mindset of playing a child.
With our appetites well and truly whetted, it was time to go down to the imaginary woods, and to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal to see the performance. Christopher Hampson has been Scottish Ballet’s artistic director since 2012 and this is his first full-length production for the company. It lived up to its expectations. We were met with a backdrop to the stage that was reminiscent of the works of Tim Burton.
This version of the Brothers Grimm’s famous story comes with the characteristic Scottish Ballet twists. While there’s lots of fun and good doses of darkness, there’s no wicked stepmother. Hampson felt that evil stepmothers are not relevant to today’s world. In her place we have a school teacher who becomes a witch and everything is set in a nameless 50s/60s town. The parents are flawed but adorable and the interplay between them is very funny as they carry out rag-taggle scenes of smoking, drinking and lying on the sofa watching telly. It’s all very playful and realistic.
Meanwhile with their parents attentions diverted elsewhere, the kids are getting up to mischief. They jump over the kitchen table and chairs, clamber around and fight over toys. They are utterly convincing as children.
The witch is a strong female role and after seeing Eve Mutso’s portrayal of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson knew she was perfect. The witch goes through three incarnations, from gawky, nerdy teacher to the beautiful and terrifying enchantress who eventually unravels to become an old knife-wielding hag. The first transformation is magical, making use of a massive flowing cape, which must give the dancers some difficulty trying to avoid any tangling mishaps.
The Sandman is an intriguing shadowy figure and it would have been good to see a little more of him on stage. The delightful dew drop fairies are as pretty as a fresh flurry of snowflakes floating down from a frosty blue sky.
The costumes are beautifully designed. The parents reappear to the children in a dream while they are lost in the woods. And unlike their usual down-at-heel selves, they have been transformed into movie stars from a golden era. The dress which the mother wears was modelled on a typical Grace Kelly look and was stunning.
Designer Gary Harris has crafted a truly enchanting and breathtaking set which includes a wonderful opening to Act II complete with glowing coloured lollipops brightening the darkened woods. It’s a feast for the eyes. The spectacular setting combined with the clever lighting gives a 3D effect and you feel as if you could wander onto the stage and disappear.
The instrumental score comes from Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1893 opera. Using this original score some music was created specially for this production by principal conductor Richard Honner and digital audio editor Brian Prentice. Listen to an excerpt on the Scottish Ballet Website
As well as the darkness, there’s a lot of humour. Constance Devernay mentioned a food fight and it all gets messy towards the end in a macabre room filled with mayhem.
Visually stunning, beautifully and lovingly crafted – it’s easy to see how Scottish Ballet can get totally wrapped up in their work.
There’s still time to see it. It’s touring and has just started a four day stop-over in Edinburgh. For details see below or Scottish Ballet Website
8 – 11 January 2014
Box Office 0131 529 6000
15 – 18 January 2014
His Majesty’s Theatre
Box Office 01224 641122
22 – 25 January 2014
Box Office 01463 234 234
29 January – 1 February 2014
Box Office 08448 11 21 21
5 – 8 February 2014
Grand Opera House
Box Office 028 9024 1919