Classic fairytale gets a modern twist

9 May 2022

Freeze Frame brings opera to a new generation with a light-hearted performance of an old favourite Hansel and Gretel, writes young writer Bethany Stopher

Hansel and Gretel is a quirky and delightful performance by Freeze Frame Opera that provides the perfect introduction to the world of opera. At just 40 minutes long and with a decent twist of humour it is a spellbinding experience for its young audience. 

The unconventional tone was set on arrival at Wilkinson Gallery, Claremont Showground, as we were offered freshly spun fairy floss and ushered to a light and airy room, peppered with tents and pine trees. The youngest audience members were invited to sit near the front, on mats or in the tents. Before the show started, the performers were already interacting with the audience.

I was impressed by the vocal abilities of all of the performers. Charismatic duo Amy Yarham (Hansel) and Jesse Chester-Browne (Gretel) displayed some particularly nice harmonies and they were able to maintain their beautiful operatic tone, even as they skipped around the forest in search of berries. Not only could they sing like angels, but they also portrayed the spirit of their characters with vigour.

Hattie Marshall challenges stereotypes in the role of the witch. Photo courtesy Freeze Frame Opera

Vivid facial expressions and gestures highlighted the mischievous and playful qualities and brought the words to life.  The chemistry between the pair made them believable siblings; they bounced off each other’s energy, whether they were playing cricket, making flower crowns, or fighting over the best parts of the gingerbread house. 

The rest of the cast were also skilled performers. Prudence Sanders played the mother with a dramatic flair and a comedic abhorrence for wildlife and Robert Hofmann was the kind-hearted and jolly father. Pianist and musical director Tommaso Pollio accompanied the singers beautifully. The witch was played by Hattie Marshall, who was hilarious with a wild grin and bubble gun. 

Costume designer Michelle Ward took a different approach to the wicked witch trope. Instead of being dressed as an old hag, Marshall was decked head to toe in pink, with a cherry headpiece as the finishing touch. I think this was a clever decision for a young audience. With any fear of the witch diminished, they could really get to enjoy the opera.

The element of humour entwined into this performance made it more relatable and accessible to children. The storyline flowed swiftly, maintaining the audience’s interest. 

Director Matt Ward put a modern twist on the 1894 classic (composed by Engelbert Humperdinck) that made it innovative and amusing. For example, instead of living in a cottage in the woods, with a broom-making father and bellies starving from poverty, the family were on a camping holiday. The mother was not happy and sends the children to find berries because the nearest IGA is three hours away. But her modern-day woes were solved by a takeaway meal. It’s not every day you witness experienced opera singers serenading Hungry Jacks, but the audience seemed to love it. 

Freeze Frame’s purpose is to expose new audiences to the great art form of opera, including performances in unusual places, such as the back of a truck, and the company is taking its down-to-earth approach direct to young people with performances of Hansel and Gretel in schools across the Perth area in coming weeks.

Hansel and Gretel continues 15 May at Swanbourne Primary School.

Pictured top: Jesse Chester-Browne (Gretel) and Amy Yarham (Hansel) display great chemistry in the title roles. Photo courtesy Freeze Frame Opera

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Bethany Stopher has long brown hair over her shoulders and is smiling at the camera

Author —
Bethany Stopher

Young writer Bethany Stopher is a high school student who has a passion for ballet and creative writing. She is drawn to shiny things, pretty words, and big hugs. Her favourite piece of playground equipment is the swings because it feels like flying.

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