Red Riding Hood review: riding into modern day with musical numbers

The University of Essex’s Theatre Arts Society put on an excellent Christmas pantomime which told a modern variation of Little Red Riding Hood. Here is Chloe Bransom’s review of the performance.

Now imagine you’re going to see a pantomime, all you know is that it’s about a classic tale; Little Red Riding Hood. You’re expecting this to be a classic tale with a slight twist to the original story with panto gimmicks included. Instead, you are taken on a wild three hour ride and come out believing it might just be one of the very best interpretations of the story that you have ever seen. Sound good? Well that’s exactly what the Theatre Arts Society did at the Lakeside Theatre with Ben Jennings’ interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood.

The panto starts straight off the bat with a musical number featuring glow sticks and funky dance moves. We then meet the woman herself; Red Riding Hood (Faye Nichol), who is depicted as a socially awkward timid girl who is trying her best to make friends at the University of Essex. Within this scene are jokes poking fun at the students’ thoughts of on-campus club, ‘Sub-Zero’, referencing it as a ‘dark and scary place’ – which got a few laughs from the audience. Overall it was a nice opening for the panto, setting it at the university itself which allowed them to make jokes at the uni’s expense to interact properly with the audience from the start. Not to mention that every time a character says ‘Wivenhoe’, Santa Claus (Arran Wylde-Eccles) comes out and gives a member of the audience a present!

Next, we meet the first lot of wacky characters who we will grow to love in the end. Tortoise (Kieran Roy) and Hare (Aidan Rockey) are a comedic duo who want to help Red in her adventure to her grandmother’s house. But she is suddenly left alone again, where she then meets the Big Bad – but actually quite fashionable – Wolf (Tom Jarvis). The Wolf manages to trick Red into believing he is nothing like his ancestors, and that he is actually nice and shy, and couldn’t possibly bring anybody any harm. That is, until we learn his true intentions. He wants Red’s lovely red cape! We learn of Wolf’s true intentions behinds Red’s back, in which the plot thickens.

Onwards in Red’s adventure, we are finally introduced to Red’s grandma; Ruby Riding Hood (Benji Luke). She is not the grandma you would expect to meet in this classic tale, in fact, she’s pretty far from it. This absolute stunning woman was cheeky, flirty and incredible seductive, evening going as far to feeding a member of the audience a sweet from her own hand! She was quite possibly an audience favourite, portrayed amazingly by Benji Luke who was definitely a personal favourite of mine. We watch in amusement as she sends her ‘boyfriend’ Woody (Callum Marshall), out to get her three things that she wants in order to forgive him for their fighting; the purpliest berries, a dress that shows ‘she is a bad bitch’ (and she KNOWS it) and a song. Determined to please her, Woody sets out on his quest.

Woody’s own musical number featuring the women from the village who help Red on her journey. Photo provided by Benjamin Jennings.

Red comes to a little village where she meets Georgie Porgie (Henry Walters), a typical ‘lad’ who instantly falls in love with her and gives us many hilarious attempts at trying to express it. Red is warned by the villagers that she is not safe from the Wolf, as he is cunning and manipulative. They advise her to hide and promise to help her fight off the Wolf when he arrived.

Georgie Porgie (middle) sings to the other characters about his love for Red. Picture provided by Benjamin Jennings.

The Wolf, however, has other plans. After attempting to catch Red at the village, he engages in a dance battle with the villagers. He loses after a great sing off by the women of the village. He comes up with another plan with his sidekicks; Badger (Mary Spyrou), Squirrel (Roman Crowther), Fox (Abhishek Swamy) and…Duck? (Jack Bullions). The gang set off and ‘pignap’ Big Pig (Amy Laverick), to make her build them a castle. Wolf then goes ahead on his own to Ruby Riding Hood’s house, thinking that he would have a better chance at catching Red when she arrives. However, the Wolf is met with a huge shock when granny pulls out a gun and SHOOTS him. At this point in the panto, the audience are shocked silent as the lights black out and the curtain comes down for intermission. Did they just kill off the main bad guy half way through the show? I know myself that I was sitting there thinking that this was a hell of a good twist to add into the panto and was eager for the next act to begin to find out what happens next.

Twenty minutes later, we are engaged in the story once again. Meeting back up with Hare and Tortoise, who have hilariously been running through each scene during their quest to win the race. The villagers have a plan to find the man who they believe killed the Wolf’s father to ask him to kill the Wolf as well. When Red eventually runs into them, she learns from Woody it was her grandmother who has been killing the woodland creatures. Devastated, Red has to make a decision on whether she is going to help her grandmother or stop her. In this discourse and their adventure, Georgie, after being upset about Red’s rejection of him, runs away and gets caught by the Wolf’s evil gang.

Eventually, Red and her crew enter the deceased Wolf’s lair, to find her grandmother and the evil gang interrogating Georgie and making evil plans to destroy the woodlands for real estate. Red, having found friends and confidence along her journey, confronts her grandmother. Then (of course, it wouldn’t be a panto without it) a dance number ensues and Ruby loses. Amid the chaos of Ruby losing the battle, we then learn that of all characters, the Duck is part of the FBI and he then handcuffs Ruby and takes her away. One last dance occurs, songs are sang, characters are redeemed and all is right in the world.

The Wolf, thrilled to be alive, sings about this before being abruptly shot again. Picture provided by Benjamin Jennings.

I really enjoyed this panto and I am extremely glad I went to see it, as I know others are too. I have not seen such incredible acting from a theatre for a long time and I’m really looking forward to what comes next from these guys. Although, they might want to consider using waterproof make-up next time as we could see that the Wolf, as fantastic as he was, was sweating off his make-up!

Feature photo provided by Benjamin Jennings.

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