Review: Little Red & The Big Bad Wolf (Unity, Liverpool)

Little Red And The Big Bad Wolf is a pantomime that’s refreshingly different. There’s no pantomime dame, you won’t have heard any of the songs before and not once are the audience encouraged to shout out ‘He’s behind you!’ True, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is standard panto fare, but there are surprises here too. The woodcutter’s female, and we’re made to feel rather sorry for the wolf: his natural habitat is disappearing fast because humans are felling the trees, and as a result he’s perpetually hungry.

Sydonie Paterson’s set and Julie Kearney’s superb lighting effects create a wonderfully atmospheric woodland setting for the play. The Unity’s intimacy as a venue is exploited to the full, and it’s almost as if we’re sitting around a campfire, as a wandering band of players (the production has a cast of four, all excellent) entertain us with a mesmerising tale. Credit also to Patrick Dineen, who has composed a set of songs which beautifully complements the other aspects of the production.

Natalia Campbell plays a single mother, whose 12 year old daughter Little Red (Luca Rutherford) begs to be allowed to visit her sick grandmother. Campbell’s character faces that timeless parental dilemma, anxious for her child’s safety but also aware that the time has come to allow her some freedom. She lets her go, but warns her never to stray from the safety of the path. Of course the thrill of being alone in the forest and the urge to explore the unknown get the better of Little Red and stray she does. There’s an Alice in Wonderland quality about some of her experiences in the woods, especially a delightfully surreal episode in which she encounters a series of other fairytale figures, including Hansel and Gretel, the Three Little Pigs and a group of people searching for Cinderella who urge her to try on the famous slipper. Eventually she meets the wolf (Harvey Robinson), a disarmingly charming, gentlemanly figure, who appears strumming a banjo.

Completing the cast is Simone Lewis as Grandma. Her late husband Albert once saved her from a wolf, whose head is now a trophy adorning the wall of her cottage. There’s plenty of laughter from the adults in the audience when she describes the incident, recalling how as the wolf crept up on her unawares she felt its ‘hot, moist breath’ in her ear and, believing it to be her husband, reacted by saying ‘Not now, Albert’.

But Kevin Dyer’s play is one for all ages, a cleverly crafted moral fable that is thought-provoking but also a lot of fun. Some of the children in the audience were brought on stage and responded with gusto when asked to howl like wolves. When the actual wolf arrives at Grandma’s door many of the youngsters were so caught up in the story they spontaneously cried out, ‘It’s the wolf!’ Like the rest of us, Simone Lewis had to smile.

This is a pantomime that’s subtler and more imaginative than most, and it deserves to be a big hit.

**** Great entertainment and genuinely original

Little Red And The Big Bad Wolf continues at the Unity Theatre (Hope Place, Liverpool) until 7 January 2017. For more information, click HERE.