Christmas Review


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Theatre Royal Stratford East presents


Red Riding Hood


Book and Lyrics by Trish Cooke


Music and Lyrics by Robert Hyman


Directed by Omar Okai


Theatre Royal Stratford East


4 Dec 2010 – 22 Jan 2011






A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

It’s a tried and tested route to creating entertainment: pick a well known fairytale and make it in the now. New music, new voices and pop culture coupled with tradition, something that draws the grannies to their granddaughters, and gets the dads shouting like schoolboys. This production of Red Riding Hood does all that and more. First, it ticks all the character boxes: a voluptuously sassy dame from Derek Elroy, a potent and imposing matriarch delivered by Sharona Sassoon, and of course, a dastardly deceptive villain in the form of Michael Bertenshaw’s Lupinus Wolf. Second, it’s fun. And for me that’s pantomime’s most worthwhile credential.

It’s a raucous affair, at once electrifying and eccentric but equally down to earth and to the point. It’s refreshing to see that Omar Okai has the confidence in Derek Elroy’s charisma to allow the dame little disguise in age or gender. This bare bones tactic to dame-creation brings the ludicrousness of the grandma role into full light, emboldening the performance and ensuring hilarious interchanges between  the dame and the wolf. Chloe Allen’s Little Red is a firecracker of excitement and adventure, embodying the spirit of every child at Christmas - she never sits still and shakes a limb to every beat thrown at her from the pit. Sharon Sassoon’s Violet brings a real theatrical force to the piece, dominating both the stage and her lumberjack lover alike; her gruff but absorbing articulation is an engaging eye-locker. The only failure of the cast is in its’ tepid encouragement of  audience interaction, the ‘he’s behind yous’  weren’t quite loud enough, and perhaps more actor excursions out into the stalls would whip up meatier crowd recall. Nevertheless, judging by the whoops and squawks from the 40 yr old man sat next to me, the audience didn’t feel out of the loop.

The show’s inventive too, and although it seemed like some of the second-half songs had a little less bite, the settings and content were more original and deliciously bizarre. There’s the wolf’s X Factor showcase, his pop-song mash up under the banner of his sassy stage name, ‘Wolfylicious’ and of course Delroy Atkinson’s bewildering but mesmerising Bile song that takes place deep in the wolf’s belly, complete with his backing singers, Gunge and Tripe. This is Jonah and the Whale, re-mastered and re-mixed for the 21st century and its pure gold, if you can stomach it.

Naturally, the panto characters develop in millisecond leaps; Ayesha Antoine’s Big Blue jumps from devious sibling to supportive older sister in an instant, and you’re never really sure where Violet and the lumberjack’s relationship is at, but this is all as it should be. Panto’s about laughs and thrills, and the only conversation we need to hear between these lovers is the only one we do, ‘My what a big axe you have!’ ‘Er … actually I prefer to use this smaller one’.

Emma Wee’s set is playful and interactive; there’s tree trunks to peep through, beds to hide behind and the most detailed (and enormous) image of a wolf’s skeleton you’re likely to find this side of North America. It’s wacky, but not overblown, all the features are used to great effect, and there’s much credit in creating an inventive set for a brilliant pantomime on a less-than-West-End budget. Charlie’s Lucas’s lighting is for the most part understated, but it becomes incredibly powerful when it’s used to enhance the wolf’s hypnotic ‘puffs’, its harmonious connection with the sound effects creates an intensely mesmerising experience.

The music itself is beat perfect, expertly led by Sean Green who directs his drummer Perry Melius and bassist Wayne Nunes with jaunty but precise rhythm. The songs were just catchy enough to hold the audience’s attention, but not cheesy enough to sneer at, and Jason Pennycooke’s joyful and playful choreography matched it effortlessly.

If you like a stiff-collared pantomime with a relentless moral chorus, Red Riding Hood might perturb you somewhat. But if you like to shriek, squeal, puff and chortle, this production, with its’ silly lyrics and farcical stomach turners, will leave you itching for a bright and jazzy Christmas, and perhaps remind you that a well selected trip to the theatre can be the most tantalising festive treat.




Box Office: / 020 8534 0310

Theatre Royal Stratford East
Gerry Raffles Square
E15 1BN

4th December – 22nd January, 1.45pm and 7pm

Tickets: £20/£15 or £17/£11 or £16/£10










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