Last updated: January 27, 2014 5:37 pm

Hansel and Gretel, Linbury Studio, London – review

Liam Scarlett’s dances arise felicitously from their scores but the drama here is long-winded
Liam Scarlett's 'Hansel and Gretel' at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

Liam Scarlett's 'Hansel and Gretel' at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House

Liam Scarlett made his version of Hansel and Gretel a year ago for the Royal Ballet in the Linbury Studio. The Grimm folk-tale was updated to the middle-America of the 1950s; there was a vivid score by Dan Jones; and fine design by Jon Bausor, which used the lift hiding at the foot of the Linbury’s tiered stalls to clever effect.

The strong cast we saw last year is largely returned for the present revival, which opened on Friday. And, as I regretfully observed last year, and must in all conscience reiterate now, the staging is dramatically predictable and interminable, with an hour-long first act and somewhat slimmer second. Liam Scarlett, be it unequivocally said, has a fine, clear talent. He can produce long passages of choreography that delight the eye, live in their music and offer great hopes for his future as a maker of ballets in a developed classic-academic manner. His plotless works know the truth of ballet’s traditions – his first creations at Covent Garden won my (and every other observer’s) heart, and promise a future for our national troupe.

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There were cheers for his ability to make dances that arose so felicitously from their scores. But in his bizarre creation for the Royal Ballet about Sickert and Jack the Ripper (unwisely planted on to Rachmaninov’s elegiac piano trio) and again in this present nagging drama about two children, their socially defeated parents, a maniac paedophile witch and a demented figure who emerges from the family refrigerator, drama and dance go an all-too-long-winded way. And, vehement though the action seems, choreographic predictabilities flourish unchecked.

James Hay and Leanne Cope repeat their touching (if unlikely) impersonations of the young Hansel and Gretel, and deserve better. Bennet Gartside and Laura Morera are superb as the disastrous parents, turning emotional clichés into theatrical truth. Ryoichi Hirano is a flesh-crawling Witch (who has opted for the Andy Warhol look and a Bates Motel residence) and Donald Thom’s macabre Sandman is both the best and worst thing to have emerged from a fridge this week. And time seems to have stopped.


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