A smattering of seasonal glitter

12th December 1997 at 00:00
HANSEL AND GRETEL. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. Until January 10.

Box office: 0131 229 9697

Stuart Paterson's name has long been synonymous with Christmas at the Lyceum, and his latest offering, Hansel and Gretel, is one that is likely to do the rounds of other Scottish theatres in years to come.

The strange thing about Paterson's Christmas shows is that although they all deal with magic, they are rarely tinged with a specifically seasonal magic and this is no exception.

Besides a very few panto exhortations to the audience and an in-built speciality act (a circus troupe), there's little to tie the script or production to the time of year - except perhaps a hint of silver glitter on Gregory Smith's excellent set design for the endless forest in which the children are lost.

In fact, more is made of Hallowe'en than any other feast. And yet it works. It conveys its magic with Paterson's perennial themes of individual courage, self-belief and selfless love to the fore in the battle against greed, stupidity and evil.

But there perhaps isn't enough action or convincing comedy to keep the youngsters rivetted (too much of the static verbals perhaps), but it's early doors and when the show picks up its pace it may well kick in with more energy. Sure, the children watched. And they listened. But I think they could maybe have been allowed to take part more.

On the other hand, festive hats off to Irene MacDougall who excels in performing in no less than three nasty guises (and excellently made up), including those of the witch and the wicked step-mother.

You can't help wondering whether wicked step-mothers should still be de rigueur these days, when half your audience might have a step-parent; and when it comes to stuffing children in ovens post-Second World War, it's maybe hard to keep your thoughts entirely seasonal.

Beautifully lit. Beautifully staged. Well worth seeing.

Raymond Ross

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