Writer: Scott Gilmour
Music: Claire McKenzie
Director: Scott Gilmour
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
The trend for giving traditional fairytales a modern spin can sometimes result in half-hearted productions which lose the heart and soul of the original material. But this production between Dundee Rep and Noisemaker, written and directed by Scott Gilmour, both expands and develops the Red Riding Hood tale to give a truly contemporary story, full of not just heart and soul but guts and brains and moral fibre too. And even though it’s clearly targeted at children, even adults may find themselves having the most fun they’ve had in a theatre for a very long time.
Take your seats in a reconfigured auditorium space whichimmerses you in the heart of the forest, surrounded by tree branches and leaves on all sides. We are introduced to the village of Fayble, which proudly boasts 28 days without a wolf attack on the sign into town. The wolves live in the forest, and are the mortal enemy of the villagers, as demonstrated by a whistlestop tour through some of the many appearances wolves make in classic fairytales – The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and even Peter and the Wolf are all referenced. But it is Little Red (Marli Siu) who first questions the black-and-white moral teachings of her society. “It feels a bit like a life choice,” she marvels as she begins to follow the path through the woods to grandma’s house, “but it’s just a path!”
Gilmour’s production not just acknowledges its theatricality but revels in it. From self-conscious onstage costume changes between roles, to hasty instructions between the performers: “Bring the doormat!” Little Red is instructed by her crossbow-toting, sudoku-loving grandma (Ann Louise Ross) as they leave her cottage and head off-stage while the scenery changes around them.
The wolves likewise have a mortal fear of the villagers, although it is young Lyca (Cristian Ortega) who finds a bond with Little Red, and helps to unite these two disparate communities. It is helpful that both wolves and villagers have a common enemy – the Big Bad Wolf (Billy Mack), a dark and dangerous outsider who must be avenged to bring harmony to both village and forest.
Tyler Collins, Ewan Sommers and Rep regular Irene Macdougall round off the ensemble, flashing between characters and creating the illusion of a much larger cast with a plethora of quick changes and dynamic shifts in the action. Richard Evans’s design is both slick and versatile, with evocative lighting from Grant Anderson to help set the tone, from comic moments to dramatic sequences and emotional denouments.
However serious it gets – the moral discussions of prejudice and social division are light rather than laboured – humour is never far away. Of particular delight is a subversion of the ‘Who Will Buy?’ song and dance number, familiar from Oliver!, as the townsfolk show their nasty side…
The company engages with the young audience throughout, chatting with them before the show, and with lots of eye contact during the production itself, creating a truly welcoming and joyous atmosphere – even with script references to keep the grown-ups engaged, there’s never anything snide or cruel in the subtext.
A great family-friendly show which never strays into Shrek territory but nonetheless reinvigorates a familiar story for a 21st-century audience.
Runs until 9 April 2016 | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan