WHEN a family is so poor that they abandon their hungry children in the forest, you know things have become pretty desperate. However, this isn't some contemporary tale of austerity culture and food banks, but is the Brothers Grimm's much-loved story of Hansel and Gretel, as told here by the Cardiff-based Theatre Iolo for the Tron's Commonwealth-supported Home Nations Festival 2014.
One of two Grimm tales first reimagined by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy and dramatised by Tim Supple in 1993, Iolo's take on them is as dark as Duffy's writing is sharp. With a cast of five scampering their way around a set of artfully arranged door and picture frames, Kevin Lewis's production is underscored by live banjo and guitar playing that adds to the moody intimacy of the show.
Both stories are brutal, as is made clear when Hansel and Gretel shove the witch into the fire before pocketing all her precious wares and making a prodigal's return home to their now widowed father. As ecstatic as he is to see his lost children, their dear old dad should really watch his back.
Sibling rivalry abounds even more in Duffy's radical take on Cinderella, the abused young woman who is gifted here with her original German name of Ashputtel.
Here, Ashputtel's suitor is a punky, leather-jacketed, guitar-playing prince who she shimmies with all night long. Like a pair of wannabe Wags, Ashputtel's nasty step-sisters are desperate enough to go under the knife to get their man. When the birds peck out their eyes at Ashputtel's wedding, it's a viciously downbeat ending to a family favourite that's been reinvented forever.