Caro Meets Children's Show Interview Musicals & Opera Interview

Lucy Jane Atkinson: Hansel and Gretel

By | Published on Friday 6 December 2019

Of late, in our Three To See tips, we’ve been recommending lots of festive family treats, and the only reason ‘Hansel And Gretel’ at Chiswick Playhouse didn’t make it into one of those was because we knew we’d be running this Q&A with its director Lucy Jane Atkinson.

In this musical production the well loved story is given a very modern feel, bringing in themes of climate change and saving the future. I spoke to Lucy to find out more.

CM: Let’s start with the narrative of the show: obviously, most people will know the basic story of Hansel And Gretel, but can you tell us about this version of it? How closely does it resemble the original?
LJA: We’ve kept the basic plot of the original intact, it’s still about a brother and sister, their father and evil stepmother. They get left in the woods, they find a gingerbread house, they outsmart a witch. What differs is the time in which it takes place, which is now a post-climate disaster future, where the woods are full of the spirits of extinct animals, the witch is a chemist who makes pesticides and eats children as an alternative, sustainable food source and one of our heroes is a tap dancing cockroach from New York.

CM: Have you consciously made the changes to make it more accessible for contemporary audiences?
LJA: I think in setting the show in the very near future, there’s a more immediate message about climate change and the little things everyone can do to help save the planet.

CM: What themes do you explore through the show?
LJA: Climate change, adventure, grief, bravery, and learning to love your siblings even if it seems like you have nothing in common.

CM: Can you tell us about the original music and its composer? What style of music can we expect to hear?
LJA: Leon Parris, our composer, has created an amazing soundtrack for the show. This isn’t your typical kid’s fairy-tale musical. The music covers a range of genres, from traditional ballads to Broadway show-tune, to rap. It’s a really fun and eclectic show to sing.

CM: Can you tell us about the writer of the book and lyrics?
LJA: The writer is Orlando Wells, he’s an actor and a father of four, so he knows how to write an exciting, fun and silly show for children of all ages.

LJA: What made you want to work on this particular show?
I think updating traditional fairy tales and classic stories for contemporary audiences allows us to look into the folklore that helped to shape our society, and how those lessons can still be relevant hundreds of years after they were originally written. This show feels particularly timely, with everything going on with Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion in particular.

CM: Who is the show aimed at?
LJA: Anyone who loves a good story, or who cares about the planet and the way we’re treating it.

CM: Tell us a bit about you now: did you always want to be a director? How did your career begin?
LJA: I’ve wanted to be a director since I was eight years old and went to the Globe for the first time. It blew my mind and I knew it was the career for me. I directed my first play when I was sixteen and have been working to present great stories on stage ever since.

CM: Your career is still relatively ‘young’ really, isn’t it? But what have your highlights been thus far?
LJA: Yes and no. I’ve been directing for thirteen years, but I only graduated with a masters in directing from LAMDA five years ago. My highlights so far were my show ‘A Hundred Words For Snow’ opening in the West End earlier this year and directing the American premiere of ‘The Enchantment’, a Swedish play from 1888, off Broadway in New York.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
LJA: To keep directing the best possible new writing. I’d love to be able to work more in the USA, and on larger and more prestigious stages all across the UK.

CM: What do you have coming up next after this?
LJA: I’m directing a show called ‘Something Awful’, by Tatty Hennessy, at Vault Festival from 28 Jan-28 Feb. In February and March, I have a brand- new show on at a theatre in South London, but it’s not been announced yet, so that’s all I can say for now.

‘Hansel And Gretel’ is on at Chiswick Playhouse until 4 Jan. See the venue website here for all the details.

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