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The Rose Theatre Kingston

We caught up with the show’s director Rosie Jones to find out more…

Can you tell me about your vision for the show?
Inspiration for the show design has come from all the things I loved about fairytales as a kid - old books, magic and the wonderful illustrator Jan Pienkowski. I hope we will achieve a fabulous mix of classic fairytale motifs and contemporary references, with very relatable characters. There will be hints of the Germanic origins and vast forest, combined with modern elements and rope hammocks. Fairytale characters that we all know will pop up in ways you won’t expect!

Which elements of the show are you most looking forward to audiences seeing?
The very beginning is always an exciting place to start, but really I just can’t wait to share our whole story with an audience! Part of what makes the Rose Christmas show so special is the number of young actors on stage working alongside our professional cast, and with any luck, both adults and children in our audience will see versions of themselves up there and feel connected and inspired by the decisions they see characters make.

How do you go about getting the best out of the cast of young actors?
Young actors are fabulous to work with because they bring an additional level of energy and joy to the process, but I approach rehearsals in exactly the same way as I do with a professional cast – working together to find story clarity and play intention. Improvisation, discovering the imaginary circumstances and looking for relevant scenarios from their own worlds often helps them access moments that might otherwise feel alien. Rehearsals can be demanding – they require huge focus and attention to detail, as well as the ability to be open and make offers – but a creative atmosphere where we can all try things out seems to work well.

The original story of Hansel and Gretel is a dark one. Can you tell me how you have updated it for the festive season? Do you think that fairytales (particularly by the Brothers Grimm) are too dark for our audiences today?
Fairytales have always exposed the extremes of human nature, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and been interpreted within varied cultural and moral contexts. Human behaviour in the contemporary world is as shocking as it ever has ever been. Prejudices and habits change, but ultimately people’s capacity for hatred and hurt, and their ability to love and build, remains unaltered. Exposing the selfless acts that humans are capable of and highlighting the positive choices people make, feels like a hopeful message to share. For me, telling stories is the best way of learning and developing and deciding what kind of part you want to play in the world.

Hansel and Gretel is at its core a story of two children overcoming oppression, and our version retains just that. But this new adaptation from Ciaran McConville and Eamonn O’Dwyer also offers us heart, magic, sibling banter, battles with witches and wolves, some kick-ass fairytale characters and plenty of festive cheer.

What were your own favourite tales from childhood? And which ones would you like to bring to life on stage?
Hansel and Gretel was always a favourite, and I’m thrilled to be able to bring it to the Rose, especially given that our two protagonists get to meet some other recognisable characters along the way. (Look out for Red Riding Hood with a bow and arrow!) When I was young I loved Robin Hood, Baba Yaga and The Lemon Princess.

What have been the highlights of your career so far?
I work both as an actor and director, so my career is wonderfully varied and great fun – there have been so many highlights! Being on set on shows like Call the Midwife and Bodyguard is exhilarating; entering a room of 42 young actors ready to do theatrical battle with a giant wolf is magical; voicing video game characters is brilliant. At the Rose I’ve been able to direct everything from Shakespeare to Sinbad the Sailor. At RADA recently, I directed a social realist play about the current housing crisis and rough sleeping, based on Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home; with only four actors and staged in the round, it posed very different challenges to the 900 seats of the Rose. And earlier this year I produced and directed a short film, The Christmas Bull, which I am incredibly proud of – it will be released this December. I can’t wait to see what’s next! 

Hansel and Gretel runs from 6 Dec to 6 Jan.

 The Rose’s festive shows always feature a talented young cast Alice in Winterland ©Mark Douet