It is difficult to think of a better place to be than sitting in the bright May sunshine, in UQ’s iconic Great Court, watching a thoughtful and well-crafted new play (complete with original music).
Gretel draws on the argument that there are very few types of story or basic plots, and in particular that there is a universal archetype (or what Christopher Booker terms a recurring motif) about a journey into the woods to find meaning. In a feminist reinterpretation of the Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale, Gretel is framed as the “real story of this legendary girl.” Gretel (Shayla Ribchester) escapes from her tyrannical father and the men of the village (Maia Von Erkel-Bromley [Joseph], Luci Rawson [Adam]), and travels into the woods. Surviving an encounter with a delightfully batty old lady (Emer Rafferty), a talking crow (Lili Smith), and a witch (Hannah Smailes), Gretel reads from the special book about the “tale of all tales” and the role of the “hero.” Discovering that “to be strong you have to stand alone,” and that “we are the hero,” Gretel decides to return to the village. Inspired, she challenges her father and the cruel patriarchal society that punished her teacher for encouraging girls to study and dream.
I loved the many knowing asides and academic references: the “narrative owl,” the comments about there being no Hansel in the play (“the story has a brother”), and even “it’s all to do with narrative causality.” All perfect of course for a play performed in the heart of a world-class University, and close to the building where Gender and Literary Studies are analysed, taught, and researched.
But this is not a play only for the cognoscenti. This is a highly accessible show. The costumes are creative and well-worked (watch out for the teapot hat, and the umbrella forest). The direction is superb (George Franklin). And the music, performance and writing deserve a larger audience. There is excellent ensemble work, clearly defined and enjoyable characters, great music, and a tightly-written and directed piece. In line with the Scrambled Eggs Ensemble/Scrambled Prince Theatre Company statement, this is theatre that entertains but which is also provocative, giving “the girls in our ensemble a space in which they can be visible, loud and assertive, where they can speak their truth to the world.” And the performers certainly do speak out, and are confident in their space (which is particularly impressive when working in such a large space)
The story and characters were initially devised by the cast, before development and writing by the talented Clare Steele—who also wrote the original score and plays during the piece (as well as a member of the ensemble and Miss Gabriel). Impressive work. I hope we get to see and hear more of Clare’s writing and music in the future.
This is not the first festival for these talented students from Melbourne’s Eltham High School. And I hope it is not their last. Brisbane, let’s step up and ensure that this talented ensemble perform to full houses (well, full deckchairs at least). And we should all hope that some of these students are so impressed with UQ, and Brisbane, that they decide to come back to pursue their studies.
Verdict: Thought-provoking original play and music, performed by a talented interstate ensemble in the iconic UQ Great Court.
Audience tip: UQ Great Court seating in deckchairs. You are outside, so bring your sunglasses (for the matinee) and dress for a cool evening for the 7pm performances. Almost every sign at UQ provides directions to the Great Court (if traveling by bus, the Great Court is closest to the Chancellery Bus Station). PG (small amount of staged violence). 45 minutes.
Only six more performances:15th -19th May (7pm), with one final matinee on 17th May (1pm), and including an interpreted performance for the hearing impaired/deaf (17th May, 7pm). Tickets are available at the Anywhere Festival website. $20 ($10 concession).
The reviewer attended the Tuesday 15th May matinee (1pm) performance.
Pictures Credit: Geoff Lawrence, Creative Futures Photography.