Hansel and Gretel – Harden Players

BIG KIDS like me love a panto, and I always think that in a village hall, hardly designed or equipped for theatre in any form, is where pantomime comes off best.

All 70 seats in the Harden Church Hall were filled with about twenty mums, five dads, a granny or two and about 500 children, judging by the noise and laughter. It was a lovely afternoon.

The show opened with a bear in the woods. I had seen the film Ted only the previous day and to my joy, the Harden Teddy was only marginally less rude than the DVD Teddy.

The puns came thick and fast: bear behind... unbearable… grin and bear it… and my favourite, the schizophrenic bi-polar bear, and the opening song Teddy Bears’ Picnic (what else could it be?) was rousing indeed.

Hansel and Gretel then appeared, not brother and sister for a change, followed in quick order by the wicked witch and her bevy of ghouls, the village idiots, Woody and Chip (more puns; chip off the old block...chip on my shoulder etc), and two trees, before the Dame and a bevy of pixies, and a unicorn played by the show’s’ writer, Amanda Petyt.

There was an excellent chorus and a charming children’s chorus, who for reasons I can’t quite grasp only appeared in the first act.

What I liked about the show particularly is that everybody had lines to say, creating a truly inclusive feel.

The three-piece band were excellent and accompanied the cast in rousing renditions of My Favourite Things; Forever Autumn; Mirrors in the Sun and Nobody Loves A Fairy When She’s Forty,.

The band accompanied the cast and audience in an ear-splitting rendition of The Proclaimers song I Would Walk 500 Miles as a finale.

The whole production was surprisingly slick. I didn’t see a prompt and the general movement around the small stage was seamless.

Forty people on any stage can be troublesome but I only saw a couple of “where do I go next?” looks from the tinies.

There was the classic washing machine routine, almost a compulsory in pantos nowadays, an excellent custard pie number, and good audience involvement with the announcement of birthdays and the doling out of sweets.

The costumes were excellent and I imagine all made by the cast and wardrobe people, and I particularly liked the effect of autumn leaves dropping whilst Hansel and Gretel huddled down in the woods.

As a finale Hansel and Gretel fell in love and married, explaining the non-brother and sister situation.

I don’t like to single out any individual performance, but Karen Shaw as the Witch was truly evil and I found myself booing her whenever she came onstage. Haydn Cavanagh as the Bear held the show together particularly well.

If you fancy a really fun show next weekend, go to the Harden Pantomime. You won’t be disappointed.

• Hansel and Gretel is performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, February 23-25 at 7pm, and the Saturday at 2pm.

Tickets cost £6 each. Check ticket availability at Harden Post Office.

Martin Carr

All pictures by David Brett.