Most of us come to fairy tales – folk tales in general – courtesy of their so-called “traditional” retellings by Disney or the local panto. So praise be to Dundee Rep and Noisemaker for offering a positively contemporary and wonderfully life-affirming take on the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
Bursting with energy, but not afraid to slow down for the darker, scarier moments – and yes, those are well achieved, even if you're not five years old
In Little Red and the Wolf, writer and director Scott Gilmour initially plays this contemporary approach for laughs – post “huffing and puffing” wolf, the Three Little Pigs went into property investment, for example. Yet in the history class referencing other Wolf-related tales, we’re immediately introduced to one dissenting voice: young Red (Marli Siu, excellent when expressing bravery and fear simultaneously) is admonished by her teacher because she dares suggest that the grizzly fate of the Boy Who Cried Wolf “wasn’t the wolf’s fault”. In Fayble, though, wolves are always in the wrong.
As are humans when they step into the wolves’ domain, but Wolf Mother's black and white perspective puzzles “weird” young cub Lyca (a touchingly sugar-free performance by Cristian Ortega). Given their mutual outsider status, it’s no surprise that Red and Lyca meet. Initially, they flee in panic but, by doing so, confound each other’s expectations. Despite the bigotries and prejudices on both sides – personified in Ann Louise Ross’s crossbow-carrying, sudoku-loving Granny – the two youngsters become friends. Nevertheless this newfound relationship seems doomed; the Big Bad Wolf is back – feared by humans and Wolf Mother alike.
Bursting with energy, but not afraid to slow down for the darker, scarier moments – and yes, those are well achieved, even if you're not five years old – Gilmour’s script is always clear regarding action, location and the need for understanding over prejudice. Granny’s insistence that Red should always listen to her instincts might appear somewhat maudlin, but the story’s dramatic heart is what Red decides to dow when her instincts go against the perceived wisdom of her community.
Possibly above the heads of its younger audience members, the show is also happy to revel in its own theatricality: whether it’s Billy Mack's self-conscious on-stage costume changes (primarily between the roles of Mayor and the teacher Dandy) or Granny’s admonition to Red: “What do you think I was whispering for? Dramatic effect?”
Tyler Collins, Ewan Sommers and Rep stalwart Irene Macdougall round off the ensemble, each adept at switching between characters both emotionally and physically – with Darragh O'Leary's movement direction particularly effective for the wolves. The Rep's reconfigured stage – for this show, an empty square performance space surrounded on three sides by seating – becomes both a welcoming and emotive place, thanks in no small part to Richard Evans' effective design, Grant Anderson's subtle lighting and a truly immersive soundscape from composer Claire McKenzie, who provides a range of emotive, dramatic songs that drive the story along.
Given that the cast take time to chat with the younger members of their audience before the show begins, and offer plenty of reassuring eye-contact during the scarier moments, this is undoubtedly an entertaining introduction to – and a reminder, for us oldies, of – the magic of theatre.