Review – Little Red Riding Hood

December 23, 2013 | By | 2 Replies More

✭✭✩✩✩  Undone by staging

Paradiso Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square: Tue 17 Dec-Sun 5 Jan 2014
Review by Thom Dibdin

Magic and fairy tale collide in this musical adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, set in the land of twice-upon-a-time and showing at the St Andrew Square Spiegeltent as part of Edinburgh’s Christmas, until January 5.

In Simon Beattie’s family-friendly version, Scarlet (Sarah Swire) is a woodcutter’s daughter who doesn’t know that she possesses magical powers to talk to animals. Just turning 16, she has never been allowed to leave the village.

Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Swire) Photo © Neil Wykes Photography

Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Swire) Photo © Neil Wykes Photography

The tale is told through her gran, Granny Red (Sheena Penson), who lives in the heart of the forest, protecting the village with her own magic powers. In particular, she controls the wolves, so that they don’t go round eating people at the full moon.

Granny is coming to the end of her powers and it’s time for the mysterious Gathering, when she will to pass them on to someone in her blood line. But Scarlet’s overprotective Dad (Bruce Strachan) is not prepared for her to become the next in line, after the dreadful thing which happened to her mother.

The cast – Scarlet apart – double-up with a variety forest animal puppets. Scarlet gets a message from Barry the Badger to go off to the gathering in the woods. On her way she meets up with Stanley the Squirrel, who helps her find her way and overcome all sorts of dangers.

The principal of these is Walter the Wolf – Luke McConnell in a half-costume with very scary ooglie eyes but a friendly, hapless manner. Friendly, that is, until the full moon comes out and Granny’s powers begin to falter as she nears the end of her days.

Great stuff, and local company Nonsense Room Productions, creators of the hit Hairy Maclary stage adaptations, do well to tell the tale in tricky circumstances.

The difficulty is that the playing area is in the middle of the Spiegeltent and raised well above the audience’s sight-line. Great for the Limbo circus, but not so good for a more intimate affair with puppets and audience engagement.

Director Bruce Strachan does right in bringing nearly all the action out into the middle of the tent, from where it can go out into the audience. Sadly, some aspects of the story require a more conventional format and he has left several key scenes at Granny’s house tucked away at one side.

The problem with the raised and in-the-round staging is that the lighting is shining straight into the audience’s eyes. And when it moves back to the conventional area, the raised central stage means a good a third of the audience can’t see what is going on.

Without the imposed problems, the company does make a few for themselves. The puppets are very basic, fixed into one position with only their mouths moving. Which would be fine if they were all sat in a row, but is not good in the swooping around the auditorium bits of action.

And then there is a bizarre accent choice which sees and American Scarlet – beautifully voiced, but nonetheless very American – with a Scottish Dad, meeting up with a posh English Badger, an New York mouse at one point and a Chicago squirrel. Talk about a multiethnic society!

This is a great idea with much promise. Matthew Brown’s original songs are nice enough, and they are well performed for the most part, although Sheena Penson needs more power. But Gillian Argo’s design and Bruce Strachan’s direction need to serve the space much, much better.

Running time 1 hour.
Run ends Sunday 5 January 2014
Daily (not 25 Dec or Jan 1), aa.30am, 1.30pm.
Paradiso Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square
Details from www.edinburghschristmas.com/LittleRedRidingHood

ENDS

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