Mini-review – Red Riding Hood – Theatre Royal Stratford East

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I loves the panto. To me it makes Christmas feel like Christmas … in England. So when my friend Exedore said “Hey! We must go to Stratford and see the black Red Riding Hood!” I was all up for it, especially since I’d never been to Stratford and thought it would be a cool opportunity to check out a theater I hadn’t seen before. I am also frustrated by how London’s theater is very non-representative of its ethnically diverse population; the few shows I’ve seen that really made an effort either through choice of show (August Wilson) or casting to oomph it up to make me think that there’s a talent base here that isn’t really getting a chance to shine.

It turns out, though, that this is (appropriately enough) a mixed-color cast, not all black, but with the perfectly cast Chloe Allen as “Red,” I was not particularly bothered about the overall breakdown of the performers, but utterly charmed with an actress with style, presence, and a creamy singing voice. Adult actors aren’t always so good as 8 or 12 year olds but as the “I really want to do good, but I keep messing up” little girl, Allen was utterly convincing and a treat to watch.

Less successful, I’m afraid, was Derek Elroy as Granny. Now, I loved the idea of a Jamaican granny off in the woods waiting for someone to bring her a little broth to eat (and pretending to be sick because she doesn’t feel like cooking), but I expect my panto dames to have a huge presence, and Elroy just wasn’t there. He’s got a fine singing voice, but the “I own the stage” attitude was not out in full force. I blame a bit the costumes, which I think needed to be cranked up by a factor of 11, but there’s also a bit of blame to be passed to the script, which I thought was rather weak.

The writing did have some highlights, particularly in making the Big Bad Wolf (Michael Bertenshaw) as a property developer. Given the shenanigans going on in this part of town, this put a light political sheen over the whole evening I found most appropriate. And the ongoing jokes about the Woodcutter (Marcus Ellard)’s “big axe” (and how it wasn’t the size that counted, and the way he held it during the scene when it was biggest) cracked me up. I’m pretty sure it mostly coasted over the kids’ heads but I really enjoyed having a titter of my own.

However, I was bored by the whole “three pigs” subplot, and I found the musical numbers and dancing just not nearly up to the quality of the Hackney panto. Still, it was yet another sold out show, the kids screamed throughout, and the whole audience waved their glowsticks in unison for the big number that took place in the belly of the wolf, so clearly the target audience was eating it up. My opinion will have little impact: Theatre Royal Stratford East already has a hit on their hands.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 10th, 2010. It continues through January 22nd, 2011. Don’t worry if the show is sold out online; many tickets don’t appear on their map – in my browser at least – so you’re best off just calling the box office directly.)

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One Response to “Mini-review – Red Riding Hood – Theatre Royal Stratford East”

  1. up your street Says:

    Really enjoyed the honest review: at last one that is not theatre lovey. Your review is well considered and thought out. Bit upset at the “black Red Riding Hood” label on the panto. For me the granny and the special effects i.e. the big massive wolf with red eyes made the whole experience as theatre. I also felt the granny was top marks but felt the actor could have gone bigger and exaggerated but of course that would make the other actors except the wolf pale (irony there eh?). The theatre is the only one anywhere that attempts to engage witht the totally diverse community around it. Open Stage 2012 volunteers operate in and around the theatre to engage with its neighbourhood. So much excellent theatre happens in that small place. Like the heavy waft of curry from the kitchen?

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