When I learnt of the restaging of Ah’Peelin Feelings Playback Theatre Company’s Harry and Greta, a local Adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Hansel and Gretel, I must admit that I was filled with much exuberance. I made it my mission this time around not to fall within the unfortunate category of persons who did not have this spectacular experience. Yes…SPECTACULAR!!! The best word that comes to mind after closing night’s performance on Sunday, May 31, 2015, in the auditorium of the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), University of the West Indies. In a time when we have witnessed so many adaptations of timeless classics, I wondered as I made my way to the auditorium; “why the story of Hansel and Gretel?” and “what’s the new take on a story we know so well?” It was in the Notes of the Playwright and Director, Michailean Taylor, which gave me some of the answers I needed. He was of the view that the fairy tale highlighted many problems that existed within the family today; poverty, fear and single parenting along with the perceptions and coping mechanisms children possess when confronting these realities. The adaptation was intended to teach its young audience lessons of courage, forgiveness, friendship and justice. In my humble opinion it was a success.
The show opened with a scene excerpt from “Androcles and the Lion”, a child’s play directed by Taylor which he would describe as the impetus for his love of children’s theatre. Though the scene was met with over the top energy which grasped the attention of the young audience instantly, good costuming and even a few acrobatic stunts, the lack of microphones was my issue. For those of us like me who were positioned at the back of the auditorium(,)bits of what was being said were lost. Further, the little four year old directly in front of me who stood eagerly straining an ear trying to hear the wonderful lesson confirmed my view.
Despite the minor amplification issue, Harry and Greta’s tale had the wrapped attention of the audience and we did not want to miss a single line or NOTE. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the singing capabilities of both Harry (Akil Bristol) and Greta (Jeuelle Archer). They both embodied what it meant to be children; aware of the realities but happy to be alive and making the most of the little they had. They had excellent chemistry with each other and that chemistry transcended to the supporting cast; Beau (Kannan Roderick), Pigeon (Ambika Ramdass), Pot Hound (Shreda Reece), Kiskadee (Ayanna Dodds) and Crapaud (Keithus Burke). Despite having no spoken lines, they had significant roles in contributing to the fairy tale experience. They fully committed to their respective characters and it was commendable. Being able to involve the audience in their journey also made the experience more memorable.
Boysie (Akil Andrews) and Clara (Rhesa Samuel) who played Harry and Greta’s father, the optimist, and step mother, the cynic, demonstrated the constant struggle that we all go through when battling our own realities. In the Caribbean context the father is usually the absentee parent who often times evades his responsibilities that he owes to his children. Boysie was the supportive father who chose to feed his children’s imagination and impart his optimism. However, the adaptation illustrated that even an inherently good man like Boysie can be manipulated and make a horrid decision like abandoning his own children deep in the woods.
Are step mothers still terrible, haggle tooth soucouyants? Who knows? But every fairy tale needs a villain and it this adaptation we had two both Clara and Clarissa. From manipulative stepmother to the old, carnivorous hag, Rhesa Samuel showed a bit of her range. I must admit though that there were moments in her soucouyant portrayal of Clarissa that fell a bit flat and broke the illusion that was created. However, with such a bold character, little inconsistent moments were easy to overlook.
In the final analysis the themes of love, friendship, bravery and forgiveness were all apparent. The team was able to create a wonderful fairy tale with magnificent costumes, music, lighting and choreography which complemented the story. I am of the opinion that Taylor and his team was able to captivate the attention of his young audience which is no simple accomplishment. We were all reminded to make the best of our situation. I left LRC with a connection to my inner child; feeling all the excitement and optimism about life. Taylor’s adaptation proved that great classics will always have significant life lessons and it is my hope that those lessons were learnt by both young and old.