As the primary teacher I took along with me to see the matinee of Red Riding Hood at the Pleasance Theatre this afternoon commented, of the sparsely populated auditorium, ‘if you can’t fill a theatre with children on a Saturday afternoon two weeks before Christmas, perhaps there’s something wrong with what you’ve got on offer’.
Red Riding Hood, by Jake Brunger and Pippa Clearey, was originally commissioned by the Singapore Repertory Theatre, and first produced there in November 2013.
Although the cast and most of the production team are new, Kate Golledge and Ashley Nottingham reprise their roles as Director and Choreographer respectively, but in spite of their assured hand – and sterling work from a very likeable and talented cast – fail to paper over the cracks that make the show seem like a very long hour indeed for any of the adults in the audience.
All the usual characters are in play; Little Red (Nazerene Williams); Grandma (Patsy Blower); Red’s Father (Matthew Barrow, who also doubles as the Wolf) and Mother (Holly-Anna Lloyd who doubles as Freddie the…well, some sort of bird); and William the Woodcutter (Matthew Jay-Ryan).
The story will be familiar. Feckless child shops the location of her grandmother’s cottage to talking wolf who goes there intent on eating said elderly relative. Child arrives; wolf eats grandmother and falls asleep. Child recovers grandmother and escapes with the aid of a woodcutter. There are a few changes to the plot, and in this heavily sanitised version everything ends happily ever after.
Little Red (the very cape-able Nazerene Williams who works her socks off with what she’s been given) is a likeable enough character, though doesn’t have a particularly satisfactory story arc.
Red’s Father (Matthew Barrow, who was having serial microphone problems this afternoon and was sadly inaudible in places over the amplified pre-recorded score) occupies a sort of pre-story, story as part of the set up which, if I’m honest, I think causes more problems than it solves (Late in the show we discover that the Wolf is actually Red’s father, which means that he eats either his own mother, or his mother-in-law, and tries to eat his own daughter. All very Freudian).
There are some nice touches in the storytelling, like having the Woodcutter (Mathew Jay-Ryan who proves a real hit with the children in the audience) played slightly simple in a charming and rather disarming way, even if his outfit does put one in mind of the Hitler Youth.
The spunky Grandma (Patsy Blower), and beautifully voiced Mother (Holly-Anna Lloyd) round off the cast.
Although clearly a show for children Red Riding Hood is still a musical, and as such is composed of three elements: The book (the story), the music, and the lyrics. Although Miss Cleary’s music is tuneful, and likeable even – never being anything less than accessible – and the lyrics are almost always appropriate to situation (even if some of the rhymes made me wince) the problem, as is so often the case, rests with the book which really didn’t make me care about any of the characters. Just because this is a show for children doesn’t mean that they should be fobbed off with something which it appears to me had not been fully thought through.
That being said, the show has nice production values, and a clever and well realised set. Well done Simon Wells.
One final note. If each adult were to bring three children, that would still give you an audience of 25% adults. The show has to work for them too, especially as they’re the ones who buy the tickets!
- Book & Lyrics: Jake Brunger
- Music & Lyrics: Pippa Cleary
- Director: Kate Golledge
- Choreographer: Ashley Nottingham
- Cast: Nazerene Williams, Matthew Barrow, Patsy Blower, Matthew Jay-Ryan, Holly-Anna Lloyd
- The Pleasance Theatre, London
- Until 3 January 2016
- Review by Richard Voyce
- 12 December 2016