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Out of the woods guided by young talent

The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel, The Belgrade Theatre, April 10 and 11

Have you ever seen someone who looks familiar and tried to remember where you know them from before realising they are actually a very famous actor?

This happened to me once in a restaurant In Crouch End when only the grace of God prevented me greeting Martin Freeman like an old friend.

It has, admittedly, never occurred in Coventry (although I'm hopeful that our City of Culture status will change this) until today, when the amazingly talented young actor Rishard Beckett came bounding onto the Belgrade Theatre stage.

I recognise him, I thought. Where do I know him from? If you, like me, travel by train regularly you'd recognise Rishard too - his is one of the heads on the giant posters which grace the hoarding boards outside Coventry station.

Judging by his performance in The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel, it won't be the last time he sees his picture on a billboard.

The show, part of a series by the Open Theatre and Metro Boulot Doudot, sees actors with learning disabilities taking lead roles. Beckett brought a cool urban vibe to Hansel, while Gretel (Kimisha Lewis) got her freak on as a young feminist role model, enchanting the young audience by refusing to accept her traditional role as the timid maiden.

Stealing the show was Vicki Taylor as The Duck, who despite never speaking a word, delivered an incredibly expressive performance, succeeding in shutting up thespian storyteller Nicky Priest with dismissive shakes of her tail-feathers.

The egalitarian nature of the show was reflected in the cardboard box set and tromp d'oeil style costumes, which underlined the idea that theatre can be staged anywhere by anyone.

A recent article in The Stage on the challenges of including diverse groups in theatre made the point that the issue isn't only that learning disabled people could miss out on art, it’s that art could miss out on them. After seeing this thoroughly entertaining show, I can confirm this is definitely true.

Picture; Katie Green.

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