East AngliaFamilySouth East

Little Red – Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich

Reviewer: Michael Gray

Writer and Director: Kevin Dyer

Composer : Patrick Dineen

In a break with tradition, Eastern Angles’ Christmas gift to the County Town this year is not a witty literary spoof, but a fairy story aimed squarely at the younger audience.

Many of this excellent company’s loyal supporters are grandparents, now, and this was the demographic for the matinée this reviewer caught: kids of five and upwards, accompanied by Granny and/or Grandad. And there was plenty to delight both generations in this energetic re-telling of the cautionary tale of Little Red, who strays from the path, loses her hooded cape, is enchanted by Mr Wolfie and almost loses her beloved Grandma.

The piece originated with Theatre Porto in the North-East. Ipswich has taken the script, the director, and some of the design elements, notably the wonderful forest floor. And they’ve added an enthusiastic young cast, and magical picture-book cut-out woods for the traverse stage we expect at this address.

The staging is remarkably effective. Fast-moving, with ambitious choreography by Anoush Kendrick, who plays Little Red’s forester Mum. There are mobile trees, a big reveal for Grandma’s bedroom, with the nostalgic fringed lampshade and [spoiler alert] the head of Brave Uncle Frank on the wall. And that “crumb” floor – bright brown grains (of rubber?), artistically swept to create the winding path, and then cleared for the red bedroom floor in Act Two.

The music is pleasingly old-fashioned – think the Ink Spots – and beautifully delivered, with harmonies and diction spot on. Especially effective are “Safe from the Big Bad Wolf”, which is also the finale, and the ingenious “On Her Way”, which morphs from jolly to menacing, matching the mood of the drama.

The action involves party games, and a host of fairy-tale guest appearances: Tom Thumb’s dad, the Pea Princess, the Cinderella Prince, three little pigs … The smaller patrons squeal in delight at jokes both verbal and visual. They’re tempted by Grandma’s free-from biscuits, and they’re actively involved too, notably in the amazing Howling Contest. But it’s the older, wiser generation who try to warn Little Red of the perils she faces.

The four actors bring us sheep and cows as well as wolves, plus a “worm in a fur coat”, and Animal Farm’s Orwell gets a nod, too, last seen here as Arthur Ransome’s house guest in Red Skies.

Brontë Tadman’s north-country Grandma was favourite with many of the youngsters. She’s brilliant in Albert’s sheep-stealing story. Harvey Robinson’s wicked Mr Wolfie, too, with his top hat and his banjo – a constantly engaging performance. The title role is taken by Fatima Jawara, who brings out the young girl’s emotional journey through those dark woods.

There’s a happy ending for everyone, though. Grandma is released from inside the wolf by Mum’s surgical axe. Mr Wolfie is pardoned, and even gets to take home the delicious-looking pie, its ingredients a lovely running gag.

A gentle reminder of ecological threats to the forest, and a moral of sorts: “We all go off the path”. But it’s mostly first-rate entertainment, the story told with imagination and infectious enthusiasm. And not a single double entendre or topical gag, not a sniff of rock’n’roll or celebrity culture.

Gold-standard theatre for this age group is hard to find. Often it’s spin-offs from favourite books. Hopefully Eastern Angles will be able to make it an annual event. But could we be greedy and ask Santa for the classic Harries/Whymark spoofs too …

Touring until 7 January 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Fresh family fun

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The Reviews Hub - South East

The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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