Of course, fairy tales are dark. And, of course, they are also subject to artistic revisionism.

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Of course, fairy tales are dark. And, of course, they are also subject to artistic revisionism.

We should all be good with that.

But the Montreal company Le Carrousel’s production Gretel and Hansel goes way too dark and dour in its retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel story, told with an emphasis on the theme of sibling rivalry.

Dynamically staged with only a dozen wooden high chairs as props, it begins with baby Gretel (portrayed by Emilie Levesque) recalling the circumstances of brother Hansel’s birth.

Basically, the little girl goes hungry as her mother goes into painful and protracted labour, sewing the seeds of resentment when "the Little Brother" (she refuses to call him by his given name) shows up on the scene.

The relationship gets even more strained after a few years when Hansel (Jean-Philip Debien) gobbles up a half-slice of bread intended for Gretel, causing the enraged girl to beat him with a wooden spoon.

As if the violent nature of this scene wasn’t off-putting enough, it just goes on and on. Quebec playwright Suzanna Lebeau doesn’t stint on repetition when it comes to dialogue, and the effect is maddening.

This, coupled with the portrayal of Gretel as violent and vindictive, makes the whole enterprise feel about as kid-friendly as Waiting for Godot.

It gets worse. Facing the prospect of imminent starvation, mom and dad decide to abandon the two children to the deep dark woods, where hungry wolves prowl. The terrified kids are "rescued" by an evil old lady who proceeds to fatten up young Hansel for her oven. Even at this point, Gretel’s attitude is stubbornly jealous: little bro just has to sit in a cage and be fed while she is forced to work as the witch’s slave.

By the time the oven is fired up, Gretel’s sense of loyalty is slow to kick in, making us wonder if the story is ever going to get on its classical track. Frankly, the prospect of a miserably-ever-after ending seems a real possibility here.

Lebeau’s interpretation is obviously seriously intended. And, in theory, there’s nothing wrong with exposing children to serious content.

But Lebeau blithely rejects the tenets of basic storytelling when it comes to a juvenile audience. The terrors and tensions of fairy tales are usually mitigated by elements of beguiling fantasy or tension-relieving comedy.

Not here.

In the program, the 55-minute show is recommended for ages eight and up.

Add six years.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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