Hansel, Gretel and you: A one-of-a-kind fairy tale experience  

Enter the world of Hansel & Gretel in an intimate sensory experience at Adishakti

Karan Pillai Published :  21st September 2019 04:05 PM   |   Published :   |  21st September 2019 04:05 PM
From the sets of .h.g.

From the sets of .h.g.

Hansel and Gretel, one of the most popular fairy tales from the 19th century, will be presented in a unique theatre-visual arts installation set-up this weekend, sans actors, and featuring nine levels of sensory props that are aided by binaural narration for the audience. To be performed at Adishakti, the show, titled .h.g., is conceptualised and directed by Cristina Galbiati and Ilija Luginbühl and will feature nine rooms with different levels of sensory experiences, through which the audience will have to walk with guided earphones and imagine the story based on the narration they hear. Produced by Trickster-p, the show is supported by Sandbox Collective and Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.
“.h.g. is the first project in which we decided to work without live performers. It has been presented in almost 17 countries, and to extremely diverse audiences,” says Ilija. Although immersive theatre experiences are nothing new in Chennai, .h.g. promises to be a one-of-a-kind experience, a chance for the audience to revisit one of their favourite childhood stories, this time with more direct participation, beyond the pages of a book. Ahead of the show, the directors spoke to us at length about the concept of the show, and why stage concepts like this are vital for contemporary theatre-going audiences. Excerpts:  

From the sets of .h.g.

What was the inspiration behind this production? 
For .h.g. the challenge of performing without live actors strongly influenced the creation process, forcing us to look for a format that would allow us to address the audience without being physically present. On the thematic level, the central element is the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, which we used to create the narrative structure of the work. In this sense, the process of creation has been nourished by elements strongly linked to the contemporary from a formal point of view, and by a very traditional core as far as the thematic structure is concerned.

Could you elaborate on the concept of this show, and shed light on the visual elements in the show?
.h.g. develops as an installation in nine rooms in which the audience is invited to move in solitude guided by headphones. There is, therefore, a central element that is the fruition in movement (which marks a break with the conventional theatre in which the spectator is sitting in the stalls). The visual elements are inspired by the key elements of the original story, with particular attention to those that have an archetypal value, such as the forest, or the childhood home, or even the house of the witch. In .h.g., however, the visual elements are complemented by sound and olfactory landscape, which are just as important and central.

From the sets of .h.g.

What were the challenges you faced while developing this show? 
The biggest difficulty was understanding how to guide the audience without being physically present. The audience is alone but the voice that guides them through the headphones must be perceived as a real presence, so there is a constant coexistence between absence and presence, and this has required a great deal of research to find the right balance.

Ilija Luginbühl and Cristina Galbiati

Did you make any changes to the original story? 
The main elements of the original have remained unchanged — there are two children who find themselves having to cross a forest at nightfall until they find a wonderful home that seems to be the salvation, but hides within itself a great danger. There is the encounter with the evil one and finally the victory that requires a brutal action such as throwing the witch into the flames. But what interests us is the atmosphere and the feelings of the fairy tale, more than the story itself. The audience is invited to experience the fairy tale as if they were the protagonist and not just an external observer.

What’s the nature of the narration and sound that we can we expect? 
The visual and sound aspects aim to make the viewer experience different atmospheres and perceptions of the story. The sound aspect is not based so much on music. It’s more an assortment of sounds like voices, whispers, cracks, etc.

From the sets of .h.g.

What are the upcoming projects that you are working on at the moment? 
We are currently working on a new project that will be first presented in March 2020. Titled, Book is a book is a book, this too will invite the audience to move with the help of headphones but the movement will be of the mind through the pages of a book, created specifically for the project. It will, therefore, be a ‘book-performance’ in which the audience will be invited on an imaginary and imaginative journey.

What’s the future of such shows in cities like Chennai where concepts like this are not common? 
Although different from conventional theatre, the immersive format gathers interest and enthusiasm even in places less accustomed to this kind of experiences. We believe that in a society like the contemporary one, where technology is increasingly important, to create extremely intimate artistic experiences in which the audience is at the centre, is of great importance.

At Adishakti, September 20-21 (entry free), & at Goethe Institut, September 26-28. 6 pm onwards. Tickets available online.    


You can contact the writer at karan@newindianexpress.com or follow him on Twitter at @karan_pillai