Hansel and Gretel are not Danes. Nope, they’re African in this vibrant and playful dance piece by Uchenna Dance company (creators of The Head Wrap Diaries). The rascally brother and sister duo play hide and seek and other African playground games — it was fun to see a version of a Nigerian clapping and stamping game known as ’Ten Ten’ or, where I grew up in Enugu, ‘Oga’.
Hansel and Gretel are enjoying a carefree childhood in the village, until they’re driven out by a ‘witch’ presence. Who is this witch? We don’t know. The witch could be anything from a real sorceress to the horror of war, tearing across the continent. Hansel and Gretel are forced to leave and they become refugees, travelling by boat to the UK. They’re separated from their adoptive carer, and much of the show is about Hansel and Gretel trying to find their way back to her.
From children’s homes, to London transport, the story is told through audio narration (with African voices), simple but innovative use of set, and expressive dance. The choreography takes in everything from contemporary African to House grooves, Waacking and Vogue.
We follow Hansel and Gretel through the streets and sights of London, as they discover themselves in a new land, while still seeking a piece of home. It’s an enchanting and colourful production that drew my kids in from the start. ‘Will there be anybody speaking?’ Jed asked me after the first five minutes, but he was soon caught up in the characters’ stories. It’s amazing to see even the tiniest kids riveted by dance theatre. How dancers can speak volumes with the arch of a foot or the lift of a shoulder.
Little ones loved the audience interaction, my favourite thing was the infectious music, by Ghanaian composer Kweku Acht. This fairytale adaptation works on many levels, especially as a poignant exploration of the refugee crisis, what makes a family, and survival against the odds. Powerful stuff, yet perfectly pitched for children ages 5 and over. Hans Christian Andersen would be proud.
Hansel and Gretel at the Place: Babes Review
Jed, age 9
‘It was a very good show and quite exciting, even if you have read the story, you didn’t know what was going to happen next. It told the story of Hansel and Gretel, they only had a narrator talking, they didn’t talk themselves. It’s not often I see a show where people are only communicating by actions. It was very good dancing, coordinated, no one made mistakes, and overall a very good show. I’d give it 5 stars and I’d say it’s good for ages 3 and over.’
What was it like being pulled up on stage?
‘It was fun. That was the first time I’ve ever been on stage and it was nice to know how it felt.’
Ezra, age 12
‘I thought Hansel and Gretel was a really interesting show and very unique, as instead of communicating through voice, they told the main story through dance and movement, instead of scripted lines. The way they did it was really clever, it didn’t look like they spent a lot of money on the set and they just moved it around, shifted and shaped it.
At one point they put all the blocks together to make a car, to make it seem like they were taking a cab. I thought they were really resourceful, and they had audience interaction, everyone was trying to help them play their games and they brought some of us onto the stage. I thought the dancers were interesting and the music was good. I’d give it 4.5 to 5 stars.’
What was your favourite part of the show?
‘I liked when they were all playing the game where they had to not be seen moving.’
Hansel and Gretel is at The Place until December 24, then touring throughout the UK in 2019.
See Uchenna Dance presents: Hansel & Gretel at The Place, 17 Duke’s Road, WC1H 9PY UK (Euston/King’s Cross St Pancras tube, rail) For ages 5+. Varying shows from 1pm (Tue-Wed), 1pm & 7pm (Thu), 10.30am & 2pm (Sat), 11am & 3.30pm (Sun) – timings vary, confirm at booking; adult £14/child £8/family £40 (Dec 15-24)