These first scenes seem somewhat forced, but once the journey into the forest begins, the show relaxes and improves. Unlike Punchdrunk, Catherine Wheels limits the crowd to a single, orderly trek, with stagehands to reprimand you should you stray off path or sit in the wrong spot. (Considering that tweens make up a significant portion of the audience, the producers may have had no other choice.) After a mildly spooky journey up and down stairs and in and out of branches and spiderwebs, the audience arrives at the gingerbread house. Here they don party hats, listen to a live band, and celebrate H and G’s epic pigout. In a nice participatory gesture, the kids share with the crowd, tossing out handfuls of uniquely disgusting yet addictive marshmallows.

'Macbeth' meets Hitchcock, in the greater Boston area: Punchdrunk's "Sleep No More"
Stephen Dobble and Lindsay Nolan
'Macbeth' meets Hitchcock, in the greater Boston area: Punchdrunk's "Sleep No More"

Details

Sleep No More
By Punchdrunk
American Repertory Theater
americanrepertorytheater.org, 617-547-8300

Hansel and Gretel
By Catherine Wheels
New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street, 646-223-3010

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Despite its emphasis on multiple environments and long marches, the company seems to only really settle into the action once they’ve seated the audience in chairs—creating a more conventional theater space and substituting gross-out gags for genuine frights. Still, the youthful crowd adored the show, with the exception of one skittish blond girl who had to be escorted out. The others laughed at the silly jokes and cheered the children’s rescue. (I must confess that my grown-up self wouldn’t have minded seeing the little monsters eaten.) Like Sleep No More, Hansel and Gretel does not feature much in the way of resolution. Having escaped, the children speedily reunite with Dad—the murderous stepmother and family’s perilous finances go unremarked. Fortunately, the spectators seemed untroubled by the discrepancies and loose ends. They put their marshmallow-sticky hands together and clapped and clapped.

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