“Yes, that is what some people call it. I prefer Hansel and Gretel and The Duck”


Want to perform or produce HANSEL AND GRETEL?

first performed by Jonathan Ashley, Ruth Calkin, Abbey Leamon, Susannah van den Berg and Benjamin Warren

directed by Colin Blumenau
designer Keith Baker
co-director Sue Rosser
choreographer Bronja Novak
musical director Susannah van den Berg
lighting designer and production manager John Bramley
composer Francis Goodhand
company stage manager Steph Daley
stage manager Stephanie Curtis
production co-ordinator Sharron Stowe
costume supervisor Annie James
education programme Michelle Laats

produced by the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds

MAGIC CALL: The Enchanting Process of Writing Hansel and Gretel


It’s great being a playwright. You get to imagine things which then magically come to life. Well, not exactly magically. There’s a lot of hard work done by other people: the ones you see on stage and the ones you don’t.

Here is just one example of that magic. Months ago, I was finding out about witches as preparation for writing this play. Characters with magical powers which are both seductive and dangerous appear in stories, myths and legends from all over the world and centuries before Hansel and Gretel was written down. 
I read about Circe, a goddess described in Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus is – like Hansel and Gretel – lost after escaping a deadly threat. Circe is female, has magical powers and her home is deep in the woods, just like the woman Gretel and Hansel meet. And like our woman in the woods, Circe gets control of her intended victims with delicious but enchanted food.

In the Odyssey, Circe is not seen at first. All Odysseus’s sailors hear is the beautiful sound of her voice, just as in the Grimm brothers’ story Hansel and Gretel are led to the edible house by a sweetly singing bird. One account describes Circe’s voice as ‘utterance that could halt the winds and set feet dancing, so gentle and so sweet it sounded’.

I knew I was writing this play for a company of performers who could sing, dance and play instruments, that Francis Goodhand would be writing original music and Bronja Novak choreographing. So I wanted to see what opportunities there were for music and dance to express things in the play as well as words. The descriptions of Circe and her unseen voice stayed with me, and two pages into the first scene of Gretel and Hansel together I wrote: ‘a Call sounds, far off. Gretel and Hansel’s feet start to dance’. I wrote that the call sounds again at various points during the rest of the play.

Now I can’t sing sweetly, and my dancing isn’t at all graceful. But in rehearsal the performers were working with composer Francis and choreographer Bronja, and directors Colin and Sue. The short sentences I had written suddenly came alive. Seductive, sad music was played and sung. Movements flowed through Gretel and Hansel’s bodies. What had until that point existed only in my imagination was made physically present.

No-one needed to know about where that Call in the script came from. Research into witches, Ancient Greek myth or the Grimm brothers was irrelevant. So was the process by which the Call had appeared in my imagination and arrived on the page. What mattered now was creating a fragment of theatre which would stimulate the imagination of our audience.

In some ways it’s a shame to write about it at all, in case that interferes with you having your own response to that moment in the production. We are still rehearsing as I write this, so I don’t even know what form the Call will have when you get to see it. This is just one moment among many, however. I write words on a page – a bit like a spell – and then remarkable people transform them into living movement and sound. That’s very hard work for them, but magic for me.