As you take your seats around The Ark’s round stage, the sound of crickets is all you can hear, and a large wooden door is all you can see. You might expect, as Johannes and Margarethe reveal themselves, that this facade is going to melt away to reveal an interior at some point. Then they start inviting some of the audience inside for ‘The Feast of the Brave’. Then a few more. Then, finally, everyone’s invited in and asked to sit on cushions on the floor of this strange little cottage. You feel as though you’ve left the theatre, and been invited into a whole other world.
The story of Hansel and Gretel is a well worn one – it’s been told, retold, adapted and re-imagined many times. In this adaptation by Junges Ensemble Stuttgart, directed by Brigitte Dethier, Johannes (Peter Rinderknecht) and Margarethe (Sabine Zeininger) have grown into middle age together, living comfortably from the spoils of their encounter with the witch. They promise they have twenty-six boxes of gold to show us, among other things. They’re completely relaxed and unafraid to wade in amongst the audience, teasing us and quietly prompting and bickering with each other as they re-enact the old tale they’re famous for. They also sink into the roles of their father and stepmother, both taking turns to play the witch with various costumes, slinking around Marion Hauer’s wonderfully immersive set to Frank Kuruc’s playful music. The show has an air of authenticity, like this is the original, unadulterated story, straight from the people who lived it.
Gradually, as they get further into the story, they don’t shy away from the more traumatic elements. Their ordeal has left them with some long lasting fears, both irrational and deep. But they’re doing okay. Their joy and excitement has not been dampened in the slightest, and it’s contagious. When your hour long retreat with Johannes and Margarethe ends, you might find yourself with a little extra spring in your step, able to face the mundane world a bit more bravely.