Writer: Sarah Middleton
Director: Kitty Winter
As Christmas approaches and you are looking for something to do with the children for a festive treat, the Christmas panto springs to mind. But what if your child is still too little and you are worried that they won’t sit for a full-length show in the theatre auditorium? Well, look no further, Nottingham Playhouse’s production of Little Red Riding Hood is just the ticket.
Based on the Grimm’s fairy-tale that we all know and love, this production brings the story to life in a dynamic and captivating way. Sympathetically devised for its young audience (ages advised 3-8 years) this show combines cartoon animation, live theatre, and original music to bring the tale to life. Performed upstairs in the intimate studio space, this is a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere for little ones to get their first taste of live theatre. Granny meets and makes small talk with the children upon entry and thanks them for coming to Lil’s birthday party.
The technology used within the show, aside from the TV screen, is simple minimal lighting which works well in terms of maintaining focus and concentration throughout. The set design by Ella Barraclough is beautiful as well as highly functional, striking a fine balance between cartoonism and naturalism. The intricate painting of a woodland backdrop onto a set of standard office blinds works wonderfully as they subtly move and sway throughout the course of the show.
This is a two-hand play with Josie White taking on the part of Lil and Carolyn Murray playing Granny/ Wulfric. Both actors pitch their performances well to the young audience and give strong assured characterisation.
We begin with a surprise birthday party for Lil who is obsessed with a woodcutter named Chip and wants more than anything to join his crew to build more shops and car parks. Whilst Granny gifts Lil a woodcutters’ kit for her birthday, she doesn’t necessarily believe Chip to be a good role model. During her first number A Granny Idea, she introduces the idea of ending deforestation in a light and humorous way making the information around quite a large global topic accessible for the children watching.
Disheartened after receiving a letter from Chip where he mocks her and calls her a pipsqueak, Lil embarks on a journey through the forest to return her woodcutters’ kit to granny. On the way, she encounters Wulfric, a sad and lonely wolf who keeps having snaccidents and eating his friends. Lil comes to Wulfric’s aid by using her woodcutters’ kit to forage for food and to set up camp on their journey to Granny’s house. The journey itself is beautifully thought out and peppered with lovely movement sequences that cleverly manoeuvre the set in anticipation of the next scene.
Throughout the action, speech is supported by picture book style animation which not only looks cute but also aids the very youngest in the audience with the following of the narrative. In particular, the facts regarding the wolf habitats and the themes of Wulfric eating his friends are nicely handled by Raphael Achache’s animation.
As the show reaches its climax, Lil realises that ‘strong doesn’t always mean muscles’ and Granny’s wisdom is punched home in the original song Being Strong. Lil concludes that she is in fact a forester and not a woodcutter and vows to protect the forest.
As the sound of multiple chainsaws ominously hums in the air, we see Lil take on Chip and his gang once and for all proving that she is not a pipsqueak, much to the delight of the children in the audience.
In true panto style, audience participation is actively encouraged and at one point, without revealing too much of the story, the children themselves get to help and they themselves are cast in the role of hero.
This modern take on a classic fairy-tale combines well thought out ideas on deforestation, endangered habitats, and conscious eating habits without preaching or overreaching in terms of the delivery of the message. This is a fun, high energy show that just so happens to carry with it a little bit of education and a large dollop of good family values.
Runs until 1 January 2022