Written by Ruby Isla Cera Marle
Presented by The Berry Theatre
Reviewed at artsdepot
At artsdepot until 1st June
For ages 4+
Cast an eye over the audience of Little Red Riding Hood at artsdepot this half term and alongside little girls dressed up as the protagonist herself, you’ll also spot a couple of pint-sized people looking extremely cosy in slippers and pyjamas. Siblings Bridget and Stephen are having a sleepover at their grandma’s house, and we’re all invited. Struggling to get to sleep – partly because boisterous older sister Bridget can’t stop thinking about the uneaten donuts in grandma’s kitchen – the pair decide to tell a story. Equipped with only a toy-box, a wardrobe of their grandma’s clothes and their vivid imaginations the pair energetically transform into the roster of characters from Little Red Riding Hood. With upbeat songs, a replenishing wardrobe, and make-believe aplenty, Berry Theatre’s Little Red Riding Hood is a charming tale.
With a fairytale as ingrained in the collective conscience as Little Red Riding Hood, audiences are always going to be on the look-out for points of difference and what spins, if any, are put on the iconic moments. Well, in this production bossy older sister Bridget (played buoyantly by Lorna Jinks) is in charge of casting, telling her brother that if he wants to play the Woodcutter, he’ll also have to play Little Red Riding Hood and later on the aging grandmother as well. Reluctant at first to don the scarlet cape, a compliant Stephen (Iain Ridley) soon decides to play along. Ridley has great comic timing, with one stand-out moment being when he questions what Little Red Riding Hood’s actual name was, remarking that naming her after an article of clothing would be much like if he called his sister ‘Purple coat from H&M’. This production is littered with an abundance of giggles, as moments with shadow puppets, water pistols and, of course, a pair of underpants really tickle the young audience’s sense of humour.
Anybody who has ever seen The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe will know that cupboards can have magical capabilities, a trope that is used throughout this rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. Every time the wardrobe is reopened it contains another prop that wasn’t there before, and ultimately it acts as a portal for the children to leave their bedroom and explore the mysterious woods. In fact, a clear strength of this rendition of Little Red Riding Hood is the simplistic but effective use of props, for example Jinks is transformed into the ever-famished wolf using only a long grey fur coat. And, I won’t spoil it, but the production also orchestrates the pivotal grandma-being-eaten-by-the wolf moment in a rather clever and completely non-scary way.
It isn’t often as an adult that you attend a piece of children’s theatre aimed at ages 4+ and expand your vocabulary. However, a delightful song introduces the German word ‘Waldeinsamkeit’ which aptly means the feeling of being alone in the woods. This new addition to our lexicon is spelt out on colourful bunting, with a few other untranslatable words from other languages also thrown into the mix. The brief but educational musical detour is very welcome, and for me this was the most successful song of the bunch – the rest, although repetitive, didn’t quite pass muster as being catchy ear-worms.
A running time of an hour for a play aimed at such young children did feel a tad long, and in the last 15 minutes or so there was definitely an increase in impatient wriggling; in parts, the play could do with a little tightening to bring the overall running time down. That said, Little Red Riding Hood is a sweet, family half-term treat that will teach you a few new words along the way and may make you think about donuts in a whole new light.