Hansel and Gretel, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

THIS year’s SJT Christmas show is a mélange of classic fairy tale, family story-telling, song, audience participation – and cannibalism averted.

On a Bavarian-inspired set designed by Lucy Weller, we see patchwork tablecloths turning into witches’ cloaks and upturned tables becoming cages as, under the direction of Henry Bell, Hansel (Peter Basham), Gretel (Elinor Lawless), Mother (Eithne Browne) and Father (Jamie Chapman) gather for a sparse family meal.

Apart from dropping ‘step’ from the ‘mother’, Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Hansel and Gretel starts off faithful to the well-known and gruesome original of child abandonment and witchcraft: the Grimm brothers really were grim. But it then adds a rather camp, over-sized mouse, lots of morality messages, some fairly convoluted scanning and rhyming, and the gleefully-seized chance for children to hoot like owls and howl like wolves.

Adults may flinch at spoken eye-rhymes such as ‘mouse’ and ‘famous’, but this show is firmly aimed at the little ones – albeit little ones who are not too disturbed at the idea of a witch fattening up a little boy to eat, or the scary ‘oven’ roaring through a trapdoor. The five-year-old next to me shouted her little heart out – luckily in all the right places. Unlike Alan Ayckbourn’s classic The Boy Who Fell Into a Book, or even Berwick Kaler’s annual York frivolity, this is not a Christmas show for unaccompanied adults. But as an early introduction to the joys and idiosyncrasies of live entertainment, the Stephen Joseph is again providing a great way of nurturing the next-but-one generation of theatregoers.

Hansel and Gretel can be seen at the Stephen Joseph Theatre until 27 December. Tickets (from £9 for children; £15 for adults; £40 for a family) are available at sjt.uk.com or on 01723 370541.