We’ve been really getting stuck into the plotting and appearance of our Liquorice Toy Theatre, Hansel and Gretel show.
Tim is about two thirds through the mini-masterpiece that is the script so far, (that is I’m assuming it’s a mini masterpiece, I’ve not read it yet!). I, on the other hand have been carefully making a visual list of exactly what pieces of scenery and puppets I will need to make. I just finished this yesterday.
In the process, I have drawn my first sketches of what I want the witch to look like. My personal early memories of the Hansel and Gretel story as a child were very much tied up with a picture book I had of the story. In this version of the story, it seemed to me that the scariest and most memorable part was the fact that the witch appears to be exactly like the most harmless and sweet old lady you’re ever likely to meet. The fact that she is really the most evil kind of witch there is, the sort with red eyes, was one of the most exciting bits of the story.
So it seemed to me that one of the most important themes of the show should be the difference between appearance and reality. The witch should be like her liquorice house, seemingly sweet and good but actually black on the inside, (yes, I’m extremely smug about that analogy).
Given the above, I was astounded to discover the amount of stage and film versions of the story I found with very “witchy” witches, with black conical hats, black cats etc. The source stories also vary quite a lot. The original stories were, for example, changed in various ways to create a more Christian message. So basically we just decided to go with the different bits of the stories we liked best.
Another interesting thing about the witch in the story, is that for a witch, she doesn’t do much magic. The only magical thing about her seems to be that she has a house made out of food that doesn’t go off or get eaten by animals. The main thing that seems to mark her out as a witch is that she is evil and eats children. Then there is the question of whether the bird that leads the children to the house is a familiar of the witch or whether the bird is part of a number of instances in the story where nature favours the children.
I am not going to show any of our sketches of the characters at this stage as I do not want to spoil the surprise. What I will show you however, are two of my favourite versions of the story I found on You tube. A shadow puppet film by the marvellous Lotte Reiniger and a very early feature length stop motion animation based on the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, (not the singer – the singer got the name from this guy). Considering how early this film is, the quality of the animation and the “acting”, facial expressions etc. are amazing! A definite rival to Disney, and deserves to be better known. The witch in this one is very witchy and the father is just a bit too gleeful about the nasty things the witch will do to the children, but it is none the worse for that. I like a bit of quirkiness myself, Enjoy!