As usual at this address, the theatre itself, and the audience, is the real star of the pantomime, and nothing is much better than the pre-show warm-up with the Three Little Pigs leading a singalong of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” The foyer is festooned, the bar is heaving, the kids are squealing.
The old story is given a new twist with the threat of lumpy modern architecture along the Woodland Way (as happened in these very parts) but the distant origins of the tale – a little girl was devoured by a pack of wolves in France in the eleventh century – are fully honoured; Michael Bertenshaw’s terrific wolf is even given a Roman name tag, Lupinus.
The show concludes in the belly of the beast where the Ben the Woodman (Marcus Ellard) cuts everyone free after Lupinus has binge-gobbled and is then made to laugh so much that he passes out.
Ben only has a little chopper, but he knows how to use it, and that’s good enough for Sharona Sassoon’s sassy mother. Her daughters, Little Red (Chloe Allen) and Big Blue Bossy Boots (Ayesha Antoine) have developed a nice sibling rivalry along the way.
Although using hand-me-down material, the script by Trish Cooke and music by Robert Hyman (they collaborated on the lyrics) are tailor-made for Stratford, and in particular Derek Elroy as a gorgeous Caribbean Grannie in a golden glitter dress that makes him look like a sugar-coated pineapple. There’s good puppetry in the forest (cute little owls and a neat squirrel) and the wolf disguises himself as a pig with a yoghurt pot nose.
Only at Stratford East would it seem the most natural thing in the world to follow Puff Daddy with “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The laughing song is very good, too, almost as good as the greeting we give our porcine trio at the very start: “Oggy, oggy, oggy: oink, oink, oink!”