Here are Mark Brown's latest dance & theatre reviews...

Wee Hansel & Gretel
An Lanntair, Stornoway
Four stars
Touring until October 26

The Ugly One
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Three stars
Until July 20

Much is said, and rightly so, about the lifelong benefits of starting children young, both as participants in and audiences of the performing arts. Respect is due, therefore, to our national dance company Scottish Ballet for the delightful production that is Wee Hansel & Gretel.

Beginning its national tour at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway (a great Hebridean resource), the show is a beautifully reduced version of the full ballet from 2013 (which was choreographed by Scottish Ballet’s artistic director Christopher Hampson). Running at just 50 minutes, it is a splendidly pitched piece for children aged three to eight.

At the outset, designer Gary Harris’s set (in which the dark wood is represented by abstract green projections on a backcloth) is not particularly prepossessing. He soon redeems himself, however, with the fabulously colourful, playful and, at the key moment, quite scary interior of the gingerbread house. The costumes, from the witch (in both her fairy godmother guise and her hideous decrepitude) to Hansel and Gretel (who are the quintessence of winsomeness), are entirely worthy of the Grimm Brothers’ famous tale.

The lead dancers – who were Alice Kawalek (Gretel), Constant Vigier (Hansel) and Madeline Squire (the witch) in the opening show in Stornoway – receive tremendous support from trainee dancers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Together they give thrillingly balletic performances as they dance to smartly selected fragments from the original score by German composer Engelbert Humperdinck.

From the menace of the witch’s spooky raven to the excitement of Hansel and Gretel as they gorge on sweets (and splat each other with cream cakes into the bargain), the show depicts the various characters and diverse scenes of the story with real vibrancy. The choreography for the rag dolls, which come tumbling out of the witch’s cupboard, is both charmingly humorous and brilliantly executed.

Spare a thought, however, for James Siggens who, although very able in the role of narrator, is saddled with a rhyming script that seems a tad cheesy and dated at times.

From a classic of German folklore to the Scottish premiere of German dramatist Marius von Mayenburg’s 2007 play The Ugly One. An absurdist, satirical farce of vanity, moral and financial corruption, and the law of unintended consequences, the piece is reminiscent (as Tron Theatre plays often are) of the work of the Franco-Romanian master Eugene Ionesco.

In the Ugly One we find electrical inventor Lette thrown into a deep, personal crisis when (on the brink of the launch of his path-breaking industrial plug) his boss tells him that he is much too ugly to present his invention at the forthcoming business convention. His wife agrees that he is, indeed, physically repugnant, propelling Lette into the arms of a cosmetic surgeon.

The inventor is soon transformed into an Adonis who is more swoon-worthy than Idris Elba. Needless to say, almost in an instant, he finds the attitudes of others towards him similarly and massively altered.

Director Debbie Hannan’s crisp, nicely paced production has the measure of Mayenburg’s grotesque, sitcom-style characters. Martin McCormick gives a very funny, wide-eyed performance as Lette.

There are shades of Peter Sellers in the delicious ludicrousness of Sally Reid (as the surgically remodelled septuagenarian who uses her power and wealth to seduce Lette) and Michael Dylan (her equally smitten, hyper-camp son). Helen Katamba plays Lette’s boss and his surgeon with appropriate cartoonishness.

Designer Becky Minto’s pastel-coloured costumes and Dr Who-meets-a-seventies-game-show set play nicely into Mayenburg’s sardonic detachedness. Yet, ironically, given the play’s subject matter, one can’t help but feel that the piece operates too much on the surface level.

Bleakly comic and enjoyable though it is, the play lacks the psychological punch of Mayenburg’s powerful 1998 family drama Fireface. Indeed, it never achieves the moral weight of other absurdist works we have seen at the Tron in recent times, including Ma, Pa and the Little Mouths, which was written by the self same Martin McCormick who plays the title role here.

For tour dates for Wee Hansel & Gretel, visit:

Mark Brown flew to Stornoway courtesy of Loganair, official airline partner for the tour of Wee Hansel & Gretel