Red Riding Hood

Review written by Flossie Waite

Presented by Norwich Puppet Theatre
Lyric Hammersmith
Touring Spring 2015
For ages 4+

It’s pretty common in this day and age for fairytale adaptations to give girls a bigger, more action-packed role than before. I’m not about to start analysing a possible feminist agenda in Norwich Puppet Theatre’s Red Riding Hood (though is it a coincidence that the patronising, potentially patriarchal ‘Little’ has been removed from the title? #justsaying). But not only is this Red Riding Hood a brave, loving daughter who rocks a scarlet accessory, not only does she manage to escape the wolf and thereby write herself out of a storyline that is way too dumb for her, but she outwits the villain in a way that Caitlin Moran would be proud of: by telling him she needs a poo and making a run for it.

The show’s aesthetic is like Little Angel Theatre’s Jabberwocky made big. It comes as no surprise that director and designer Peter O’Rourke, and composer Ben Glasstone, both worked on the Lewis Carroll adaptation, and the intense score and stripped-back set meld well with Tim Kane’s subversive script. The production gives a nod to the story’s oral origin: the tale is told by a grandmother to her granddaughter; and tips its cap to the French writer Perrault who initially captured it on the page, and the Brothers Grimm who souped up its more menacing flavours.

Red Riding Hood is dark. Bodyless wolves stalk the shadowy stage in the play’s opening. Widowed, Red Riding Hood’s struggling mother has to send her daughter into the woods alone. Though offering no more specific a period than ‘Once upon a time’, the production hedges its bets that the ‘olden days’ were probably quite grim for ordinary people; the puppets hollowed out eyes and expressionless faces offering up a kind of truth in this story of a woman surviving a wolf’s digestive system. The play is also funny, with laughs arising from surprise and scatological humour – a shocked squeal as Red Riding Hood escapes the wolf’s outstretched jaws with a mere mention of her bowel movements; the sudden appearance of two washer-women who are stylistically completely different from other characters, and sing bawdily about seeing the state of their neighbours’ underwear.

Sorry for the spoiler, but this pair also have a lot to do with the wolf’s grizzly end, in a final act of sisters doing it for themselves. If the embellishments and adaptations of fairytales written throughout history give an indicator of the thoughts and priorities of that time, then I for one am pretty happy with Red Riding Hood representing the current cultural moment.

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