A Maiden Without Hands by Ann Theato, Hansel & Gretel by Sarah-Jane Brion

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Download both plays from the Wireless Theatre Company website

Wireless Theatre Company, 5-6 December 2011 
Recorded live at the Dorfman Hub at the Roundhouse, Camden, London, these plays are the first to appear in a six-part series Grimm at Christmas, retelling the famous fairytales.
The Maiden Without Hands (aka The Handless Maiden) is at heart a morality-tale involving the devil, who offers a farmer money in exchange for his daughter. However the daughter keeps herself clean, so the devil cannot take her. As a punishment, the devil forces the father to chop off his daughter's hands; the girl weeps, but the stumps remain so clean that the devil still cannot have his evil way. The girl ventures into the outside world and marries a prince who gives her silver hands. All seems well - the girl becomes queen gives birth to a child while the prince goes off to fight. However the devil finds out what has happened, and tries to have the girl and her child killed. The two of them escape, and live their lives in secret, until the king eventually re-encounters them. By now the girl has grown natural hands; she explains that God had given them to her. The family are reconciled, as the girl goes to retrieve the silver hands as proof of her identity.
Ann Theato - who also directed - transformed the story into a dark tale of exploitation: the maiden (Arielle Free) was treated as little more than a commodity by her father the miller (Gordon Kennedy), who could be readily exchanged in return for a prosperous life. The king (Greg Page) claimed to love his wife, but left her alone as he went off to fight a war - suggesting that he preferred the more manly pursuit to combat to a domestic life. The queen was left largely to fend for herself, save for the ministrations of an angel (Kerry Gifford), who ensured both the queen and her son's safety. As the adaptation opened, the queen was described as "a spectre" - suggesting, perhaps, that she had been deprived of her personality in a patriarchal world. The only way she could endure her indignities was to trust in God; that eternal being who restored her real hands at the end of the adaptation.
The adaptation ended happily, with a flourish of trumpets and the king exclaiming tenderly that her hands were "soft, and white, and natural." She replied that her hands had been "allowed" to grow again, suggesting that this was some kind of reward for her faith. Again we were left feeling rather uncomfortable: just like her father at the beginning, the queen had become involved in an exchange. Although the tale ended happily, with king and queen restored to one another, we nonetheless wondered whether the queen was now in thrall to the deity, just as her father had been in thrall to the devil.
Hansel and Gretel - adapted by Sarah-Jane Brion - told a slightly less morally ambiguous tale of two children (Jack Ashton, Niamh McEnhill) successfully resisting the attempts of an unscrupulous witch (Fizz Marcus) to eat them, and eventually throwing the witch into a cooking pot and eating her themselves. She tastes succulent, just "like pork chops," as Hansel remarks. In Amy Mulholland's production, the witch got what she deserved, as she desired both to enslave and subsequently eat children. Like Swift's macabre speaker in A Modest Proposal, she believed in making an extreme contribution to population control. However the two children proved too canny for the witch. Mulholland suggested that this was due to their strength of character; they remained resolute, despite the fact that Hansel was petrified of the witch. They deserved to live happily ever after, for the way in which they had extricated themselves from a grisly fate.
The two productions offered contrasting takes on familiar source-material. Whereas The Maiden Without Hands offered a bleak view of a world committed to deals with the devil as well as the deity, Hansel and Gretel paid tribute to individual resolve. Both productions were spell-bindingly good, proving beyond doubt that radio is an ideal medium for reinvigorating fairy-tales.