FamilyFestive 15/16LondonMusicalReview

Red Riding Hood – Pleasance Theatre, London

Book and Lyrics: Jake Brunger
Music and Lyrics: Pippa Cleary
Director: Kate Golledge
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott


Red Riding Hood is one of the darkest children’s tales; the story alone, with its focus on grandma gobbling and big bad wolves, gives it one of the most sinister plots, while looking again as an adult you can see it as a metaphor for the end of innocence and female awakening. It’s been reimagined time and again as stage plays, pantomimes and sinister films, and this musical version at the Pleasance Theatre combines all of these elements into a delightful one-hour show.

Little Red lives happily with her mother and father, who run the village bakery, but one day dad disappears and Little Red decides to visit Grandma for advice – no one assumes he’s run off with another woman; it’s not that kind of tale. On the way she encounters the Wolf who cons her into loaning him her red cape where he hot foots it to Grandma’s house to eat her. Will Little Red get to Grandma in time, what will she do about the Wolf and will she ever find her father?

This clever show, written by Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary, combines just enough heart-warming songs with some clever staging and a good sense of fun throughout. Sitting in a cartoonish fairy-tale world of big patchwork-like plants and origami birds (designed by Simon Wells) the characters are well drawn and on the right side of twee while the script drops in just enough modern references to entertain the adults throughout. Some of the choices bring a clever new perspective to the story, particularly by using the same actor to play the father and the Wolf which arguably brings out the story’s underlying comments on the predatory nature of men, while the children in the audience were rapt throughout.

On the whole, the cast is clearly singers rather than actors, but that rarely detracts from the warmth of it and it’s refreshingly played without that knowing wink often associated with panto. Best among them is Matthew Barrow who is a gloriously camp and cackling Wolf. He uses considerable charm to ensnare both Little Red and Grandma, but his fiendish intent is always clear. Barrow carries on admirably when his microphone fails, projecting to the back over the music as best he could. Nazarene Williams is suitably sweet as Little Red, but the script also makes her a nicely modern heroine who actually saves the day without much help from the menfolk, while singing charming songs like Better and Book of Important Things – which perhaps should be iPad of Important Things these days. Holly-Anna Lloyd brings a great voice to her rôle, although surely she is too young to be Little Red’s mother unless its pseudo-medieval setting has taken things rather literally and she was married at 14.

Not everything works brilliantly, Patsy Blower’s Grandma hits a few duff notes while her make-up suggests she’s off for a night at Stringfellows rather than to bed as Wolf bait – frankly, it’s a relief when he does eat her. The character of William the Woodcutter is pretty annoying and being forgetful repeats the same jokes several times, although Matthew Jay-Ryan sings well and does his best with what he’s been given.

This version of Red Riding Hood is well conceived and beautifully delivered with thankfully no audience participation until the curtain call. It mixes a wonderful Disney feel with some more sinister Tim Burton-like effects to deliver a tale that’s both scary and uplifting. With a feisty set of female characters and a cake-baking dad, it also sends out very positive gender messages to old and young. If you see one family show this Christmas, then this should be it, full of meaning and great fun.

Runs until3 January 2015 | Image:Garry Lake


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