Hansel & Gretel rehearsal blog by Oliver O'Shea

Find out about the festive frolicks going on behind the scenes of Hansel & Gretel with all our Associate Director Oliver O'Shea... 


With many familiar faces from previous productions at Derby Theatre, our hugely talented and charismatic cast of eight actor-musicians are currently hurtling through rehearsals with verve.

In this fabulously fun new version of Hansel & Gretel by Mike Kenny, the classic fairytale is told with a chorus of bird-brain Rooks, who live in the dark wood where the story takes place. For those who saw Cinderella here a few years ago, this is a similar approach to how the Mice acted as an ensemble in that wonderful production. In creating the Rooks, we have been exploring a buffoonish movement style for these birds, who scuttle around looking for food.

The original Grimm fairytale of Hansel & Gretel has several dark aspects,  but in our version there are generous amounts of humour and theatrical magic, ensuring this production is very much family entertainment. Mike is a highly-regarded playwright specialising in writing plays for young people and their families, whose scripts have captivated audiences around the world.

Interwoven through the story are vibrant and joyous songs by Ivan Stott, with live music played by the actors onstage. As well as being skilled singers, many of the cast play more than one musical instrument, which creates a rich and varied score throughout the production: mandolin, accordion, double bass, and saxophone are just some of the instruments that feature. As well as composing the music for Hansel & Gretel, Ivan's music features in another four productions this December, including Goldilocks and the Three Bears in the Studio at Derby Theatre, in which he also performs.   

Preparations for this production began at the start of the year, with the magnificent stage designs by Neil Irish being developed over several months. And now in the weeks leading up to the first performance, the actors have been rehearsing the script, practising the songs and drilling the dancing, at the same time as the scenery is being built, props sourced or made, and costumes hand-sewn; adjustments are being made to the designs as we finalise decisions about how we will portray the characters and present the story. All aspects of this production are bespoke, ensuring this will be a unique experience created specifically for Derby audiences.  

The director of the production, Sarah Brigham, guides this large team behind-the-scenes, while leading rehearsals with the actors. In her role as Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Derby Theatre, Sarah also carries on with managing the daily life and strategic vision of the theatre, in parallel to creating the production. Part of my role is to support the director and creative team throughout this busy period.

Another important aspect of our production is our company of Young People from communities in Derbyshire, aged 8-15, who perform alongside the professional actors. With 18 young people in total, the performances are shared by three groups; a personal highlight from rehearsals being their fun and energetic dance routine choreographed by Kitty Winter.  In addition to offering the opportunity of performing in the production, Derby Theatre aims to make the experience not only enjoyable but also educational for the young people involved, furthering our philosophy of being a 'learning theatre'. Throughout rehearsals with the adult company, we also have Derby University students observing the process, gaining practical experience of how a theatre production is realised.  

Everyone is enjoying themselves in rehearsal, so we hope you can join us this season for Hansel and Gretel to share the festive frolics!