Review of 'Red Riding Hood' at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Theatre Royal Stratford East returns with its 6th rendition of ‘Red Riding Hood’ as its winter pantomime in its 130+ years of operation. Reimagining a classical children’s tale for contemporary audiences, young and old, is never an easy task. However, the team led by Robert Shaw Cameron’s direction and Carl Miller’s writing succeeds in doing precisely that – this adaptation brings climate change, self-expression and many more important themes to the fore without letting go of the story’s inherently magical and whimsical charm that’s enthralled audiences around the world. With stellar performances by its cast, complemented by an eclectic musical arrangement by Robert Hyman who returns for his 23rd year at Stratford East, as well as a vibrant design by Jean Chan, this performance simply takes our breath away for it excels in every single department.
In this version of Red Riding Hood, we are welcomed into the town of Stratford-on-the-Down, a small yet lively community that is excitedly preparing for the arrival of the much-loved Faerie Berry’s Bake Off. Red (Elise Zavou) is a young girl who has grown up in this town and cares for its inhabitants, humans and otherwise, very much. However there’s something amiss in the air, for Bow Peep’s (Ashley Goh) sheep are missing, strange sounds seem to be coming from Little Wood where the Seasons Tree (which is responsible for maintaining the ecological order) is behaving unusually and something dangerous is on the loose. Red calls on her mother (Kirsty Whelan) for help, but she’s too busy with her own life to pay attention to her daughter, while Red’s Granny (Phil Nichol) is busy in her own routine and antics. Meanwhile the mean big Wolf (Raphael Bushay) is on the prowl for his next meal as his son Wolfie (Luke Latchman) watches on nervously. To restore order and calm to her beloved town, Red must work dedicatedly with family and friends, old and new, to rescue the Seasons Tree and escape the gruesome future that awaits them should they fail.
Photo: The Other Richard
One of the things that this production gets right is its ability to draw in young audiences without alienating the adults that accompany them. The staging of social encounters that punctuate the lives of young parents, such as Wolf having “the talk” with his son Wolfie or an exasperated Red confronting her mother for not listening enough, allow us to view the work in the context of everyday interactions. Additionally, there are subtle nods to British pop culture, lifestyle and politics that engage the grownups in the room even more, for nothing is more endearing than a cleverly placed Brexit joke in a children’s tale. Even the classical characters are given a contemporary flavour that accentuates their archetype, like Red’s Mother whose indifference and apathy for her daughter is reimagined to be those of a self-indulgent aspiring influencer who carries a selfie stick around with her, whereas the Woodsman (Jodie Jacobs) is deeply influenced by sustainable cutting practices imbued with an amusingly masculine energy that evokes laughter all throughout.
The production’s focus on continued audience interaction as well as its relaxed viewing environment also makes it the perfect night out. In particular, inviting the audience to shout “Red!” anytime they sense danger allows the performers to riff and improvise on stage, creating a playful atmosphere.
The ensemble of performers bring terrific energy and presence to the stage. Elise Zavou’s Red is determined and unfettered, whilst Phil Nichol’s Granny is delightfully cheeky and boisterous. Luke Latchman’s Wolfie is endearingly charming and terribly impressionable, which Raphael Bushay’s marvellously menacing Wolf takes full advantage of. Jodie Jacobs’ woodsman is amusingly gallant (to a fault) and vies relentlessly for the affection of Red’s mother, whose capricious and absent-minded nature are essayed perfectly by Kirsty Whelan
To summarize, Red Riding Hood at Theatre Royal Stratford East is infinitely delightful and engaging to watch, with a consummate production that delivers on every front.
You can watch Red Riding Hood at Stratford East until 31st December 2021. Read more and book your tickets at https://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/red-riding-hood
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 4th December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★