Following the breadcrumbs: An interview with Hansel and Gretel director Timothy Sheader

Following last season’s triumphant run of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw in collaboration with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, we return for our next adventure, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.

Artistic Director at the Open Air Theatre, Timothy Sheader, is once again directing. During the spring season, Emma J. Leaver caught up with him to find out why this particular opera and why it’s perfect for Regent’s Park.

Why did you choose Hansel and Gretel? What about it was so appealing?

Firstly the beautiful music, it just creeps up on you. It tells the narrative so clearly through the character that the music gives to each of the voices. Also, it has a familiar title, perhaps not as an opera, but as one of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales, so there is some awareness for our non-opera audience.

Finally the setting of the opera itself, like 2018’s The Turn of the Screw, that lends itself to the outdoors, and becomes so much more atmospheric amongst the trees and the open night sky.

You mentioned last year’s The Turn of the Screw. Why do you think opera works in this space?

As an amphitheatre we have a long history of music theatre, whether it is plays with soundtracks or musicals, and opera felt a natural progression to fill the epic quality of the space.

Telling a story through the medium of opera can be daunting for many and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has a reputation for attracting the widest possible of audiences to its accessible work. Our brand and venue feel like a place where you might discover opera, have a taste of it and then explore further if it’s for you. For this reason we carefully choose the pieces.

For those that are already opera fans then the opportunity to experience pieces they’re familiar with in the outdoor setting is, I hope, exciting and brings its own particular nuance to the interpretations.

As well as all the positives you’ve mentioned I’m sure there are challenges of staging work outside of a traditional opera house. What do you have to consider that the audience might not be aware of?

Well, one big consideration is amplification. Particularly the subtle enhancement of singers and musicians as the natural acoustic is obviously challenging, as is not having an orchestra pit, so the conductor is behind the singers which makes their job so much harder.

We don’t work in rep here so the performances are consecutive which means double casting. This in turn makes the schedule extremely tight. Any threat of bad weather that might interrupt rehearsal on stage makes delivering the production on time precarious, and there’s no subsidy so it’s very expensive. So, yes, there are quite a few challenges.

Given the content and narrative of Hansel and Gretel, are you particularly looking to have families attend performances? Has this changed your directorial approach at all?

I think you have to make a decision as to whether you are making the piece for a family audience or not. I think Humperdinck and the opera’s early performance history clearly tell us that it was intended for that audience so they consciously excised the more gruesome and fearful aspects of the Grimm’s fairy tale from the libretto. And yes, I decided to make a version that we could invite younger audiences to attend.

Many thousands of children have had their first experience of Shakespeare here in Regent’s Park over the decades so it will be very pleasing if some get to have their first taste of opera here this summer.

Finally, are there any hints you’d like to drop about the design concept?

All I’ll say is that it’s a challenge and harder than The Turn of the Screw was!


Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel will be on at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 14 Jun – 22 Jun 2019. Find out more and book tickets below.