Red Riding Hood review – my, what weak jokes you have, grandma!

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Red wears a magic hoodie in this pantomime, and sets off into the woods to deliver essential goods to her dame of a granny. She not only meets the wolf along the way but also his wet-behind-the-ears son, Wolfie. Thrown into this mix is her realisation that the seasons are not changing and animals are missing.

These are nice twists to the fairytale but the set-up does not go anywhere for far too long, and even then doesn’t progress far enough. Under Robert Shaw Cameron’s direction, this production has plenty of energy and a clear will to please, so it is all the sadder that it feels so underwhelming, with clumsy storytelling and bland jokes.

Jean Chan’s set comprises flat cut-outs and illustrative back-screens painted in bright colours. We are in Stratford-on-the-Downs, which is preparing for “Fairie Berry’s Bake Off” …but this does not link to any of the other elements of the show. The climate message is conveyed through a cartoonish backdrop of overflowing rubbish and Red’s repeated concerns about a “Season’s Tree” that is crying in the woods. This is a clever concept which might have been incorporated into the central story more sophisticatedly.

There are too many weak, repeated jokes in Carl Miller’s book, with a smattering of half-hearted smut from Granny (Phil Nichol), who looks like an over-decorated cupcake. The songs (lyrics by Miller and Robert Hyman, with music by Hyman) are of variable quality, not particularly catchy, accompanied by uneven singing and unremarkable choreography.

Phil Nichol as Granny.
An over-decorated cupcake … Phil Nichol as Granny. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It is not without charming moments: there is a fun disco number as Wolfie (Luke Latchman) tells us he can channel the thoughts of the Season’s Tree while also channelling a sound resembling the Pet Shop Boys. There are some good puns around London localities: Red’s school-friend, Bow Peep (Ashley Goh), comes from Bow and speaks of her posse as “them Bow’s peeps”, and the Wolf (Raphael Bushay) leaves Stratford to live in the more lupine-friendly “Wolfhamstow.”

Bushay’s Wolf is well-performed and sings an amusing song about his carnivorous appetites. Wolfie is ditzy and sweet. There is also an entertaining character in the thigh-slapping woodcutter Woody (Jodie Jacobs), and Elise Zavou, as Red, performs with zest. It might have been more successful as purely a children’s show but its thin on crossover appeal and feels – at two and a half hours on opening night – overlong and somewhat grinding.

• At Theatre Royal Stratford East, London, until 31 December

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