Review: Little Red And The Big Bad Wolf At Unity Theatre

Photo: Brian Roberts
CHILDREN won’t hold back in telling you whether a piece of theatre grabs their attention or not and, if the faces of the young audience yesterday are anything to go by, Unity Theatre’s new panto passes the test with flying colours. Seating has been reconfigured to bring us around three sides of a small, square stage covered in earth and dotted with trees. As with all good stories, imagination is used in abundance and, scene by scene, we are taken through the tale with song. It’s the same team (in this co-production with Action Transport Theatre) who brought us The Princess and the Pea last Christmas. This year writer Kevin Dyer and Director Nina Hadjiyianni, along with composer Patrick Dineen, have stuck closer to tradition in their re-telling. The hub of the fable is the corruption of innocence and, as is the way with fairytales, it can be quite dark in places but the balance is struck well in keeping things entertaining whilst just being scary enough. There are some additional messages tucked among the folds of the plot, reminding us that wolves hunt because it’s in their nature and that our search for firewood is tearing apart their habitat. Thus it seems only fair that the company should choose to create an unusual and charming twist in the ending. In another quirk of topsy-turvyness the tallest of the three female cast members plays Little Red while the smallest plays her grandmother. Luca Rutherford is convincingly childlike and of course insists that she’s quite grown up enough to go into the woods on her own with a pie for Gran. There are magical scenes as Red wanders among the trees, carefully following a path drawn ahead of her by the other actors. Once persuaded to stray from this path, the trees dance around her and she soon becomes completely lost. In a splendid retro-fitting worthy of Sondheim’s Into the Woods, she meets a host of other familiar characters from other stories, none of whom can help her find her way. Harvey Robinson is wonderfully guileful as the wolf, utterly charming but full of menace too. Inviting Red to join his lupine friends at dinner he tells the sorry tale of the fate of his uncle Frank, giving us cause to almost side with him when he arrives at Grandmother’s house. The final scenes might seem a bit gruesome on paper, but the cast have already won over the hearts of the children in the audience with a splendid party game earlier, so it’s greeted with squeaks of delight, rather than fright. The simple wisdom of childhood shines through in the delightfully remodelled ending and the audience leave the theatre singing the tunes. Little Red is great value family entertainment and, at 90 minutes including one interval, is perfect for the target age range of 5-12 years. It runs at Unity until 7th January. It’s Good News for the Wirral too, as there are 5 performances in January at Action Transport Theatre’s home, Whitby Hall, Ellesmere Port. Unity also accompany the show with a series of immersive events for all the family – see the theatre’s website for details. Review by Philip Swann