Frustrated when a bedtime story ends abruptly young Red uses her imagination to finish the tale but is disturbed when the image of a wolf appears uninvited. The next day her nightmare comes true when a wolf stalks her as she travels to Granny’s house in the forest.
Although aimed at a target audience of children aged four and above productions by Horse + Bamboo appeal also to their parents. This is achieved by constantly varying the method of storytelling to keep the material fresh and hold the attention.
Director and adaptor Alison Duddle applies this technique with such skill that the inevitable changes in tone are refreshing rather than confusing. Red tells her story using shadow puppets and animated cutouts (respectively by Bob and Christina Eddowes and Vanessa Card) show the child’s journey through the forest – a stark back and white place in which the only bright colour is her scarlet coat.
But the main success is the remarkable puppets designed by Duddle. These vary in size to allow almost cinematic changes in scene. The audience is struck dumb by an incredible life-size wolf that plays with Red. The only drawback is that, to maintain the illusion and allow her to interact with the wolf, the actor playing Red wears an immobile full-face puppet mask that not only conceals her expressive face but also looks really creepy.
Duddle’s adaptation is ambitious; as well as the traditional elements of the fairy tale it includes also the Pagan aspects such as the Wolf devouring Red symbolising the end of Spring and the fleeting triumph of Winter. Loz Kaye’s imaginative music helps to communicate the mood of the various scenes and is a pleasure in itself.
Technique is all very well but without heart it becomes a cold exercise. Fortunately, the actors, Jonny Quick as Mother and the Wolf and Francesca Dunford as Red, are an engaging pair whose performance enchants the audience. The youngsters roar with laughter at Quick’s daffy antics as the Wolf and Dunford’s Red secures the rare feat of getting unprompted audience involvement. In a typically generous gesture Quick and Dunford remain after the show and let youngsters ask questions and play with the puppets.
Red Riding Hood is the perfect blend of all the elements of storytelling – scary, funny and silly in all the right places.