Little Red Riding Hood

Dec 16 2018 | By More

★★★★☆     Traditionally welcome

Church Hill Theatre: Fri 14 – Sat 22 December 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson
Tickets and details: Book here.

There is a great deal in Little Red Riding Hood at the Church Hill Theatre that is involving, warm and funny. There is also a great deal that seems to make no sense at all. In other words, EPT’s 67th Christmas offering is a very successful traditional pantomime.

Kelly Simmonds and Stephanie Hammond

The classic panto can generally be divided into two basic types. There are those (such as that generally seen at the King’s) that use the skeleton of a well-known story as the framework for the various comedy routines and musical numbers. Then there are some that seem determined to shoehorn in as many characters and plots as is humanly possible.

This script – from an original by Clarke and Howarth – is definitely in the latter camp. The expected story of Granny and the unexpectedly big teeth is dispensed with in the first half, leading to a first-act finale that looks suspiciously like the end.

Lynsey Spence’s Little Red Riding Hood is relegated to a minor character in her own story (the now-vegetarian wolf has a larger role). Then there is the romance between Margery Daw and Robin Goodfellow. Not forgetting the pirates, of course.

It is probably best not to spend too much time worrying about the story. However, it must be admitted that there is far too much going on. Three separate villains is too many, especially when one of them turns nice a third of the way through.

Even the most fervent fan of shouting ‘oh no it isn’t’ can probably can get tired of it. And getting on for three hours is far too long for a family pantomime.

completely at home

It is to the credit of director Mandy Black and the cast that it rarely seems so lengthy. While there may be an uncomfortably large number of characters, the fact that everybody is completely at home with their role and everyone else’s helps make things run very smoothly.

Derek Ward and Lynsey Spence

In their interactions with the audience, Derek Ward’s Dame Trott and Alistair Brown’s Wilberforce are particularly good. Ward strikes a balance between ingratiation and cynicism, while Brown’s friendly wolf is cuddly without becoming annoying.

Anne Mackenzie’s witch Haggy sets everything in motion in an apparent attempt to eliminate happy endings from all fairy tales (I did say it was hardly worth trying to keep up). Keeping on the right side of evil to avoid upsetting the younger audience members, there is considerable energy to the performance.

There are also opportunities to boo Graham Bell’s Squire (although he turns good suspiciously quickly) and Matt Stanhope’s Pirate Captain, whose somewhat unexpected appearance is a cue for some Gilbert and Sullivan.

The oldest of jokes are performed with relish, local references are seamlessly inserted and there are a couple of surprisingly cutting topical remarks.

Maximum commitment

The most seemingly unpromising of roles are discharged with the maximum of commitment. Ruth Finlay’s shortsighted PC Dim has considerable comic energy, while Pat Johnson and Mags Swan’s knockabout pirates are compellingly daft.

Pat Johnson, Margaret Swan, Matt Sielewicz and Anne Mackenzie

Stephanie Hammond and Kelly Simmonds give the central romantic couple a breezy likeability that overcomes any worries about who exactly they are and what they are doing there in the first place. Hammond’s thigh-slapping Principal Boy is a representative of an endangered species and should be cherished accordingly.

Throughout, the musical numbers are beautifully varied, featuring musical theatre numbers, pop standards and some bang up-to-date songs skilfully rewritten. Black’s choreography is constantly inventive, and the musical backing of MD Barrie Simcock on keyboards and drummer Duncan Clark is flexible and tuneful.

Black makes inventive use of the auditorium, with a routine featuring Ward’s Dame and Joanna Meiklejohn’s ghost in particular wringing every drop of humour and invention from the situation. Sets and properties are to an enviably high standard, with the technical side of the production going like clockwork.

While you can undoubtedly have too much of a good thing, the fact that this is resolutely traditional family entertainment – Brexit jokes, rewritten Greatest Showman numbers and all – makes it an inclusive, welcoming and wonderfully organised piece of Christmas entertainment.

Running time 2 hours 50 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 14 – Saturday 22 December2018
Tues – Fri at 7.00 pm; Matinees Sat 15: 11am and 3.30pm; Sun 16 and Sat 22: 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

EPT website:
Facebook page: @EdinburghPeoplesTheatre.

The EPT panto chorus


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