”Red Riding Hood” at Tramway, Glasgow – review

Cindy Awor in Red Riding Hood
Cindy Awor in Red Riding Hood
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The Citizens Theatre’s building in Glasgow’s Gorbals has been shut for years in a seemingly interminable redevelopment. The company’s shows are nowadays performed elsewhere, and the Tramway Arts Centre in Glasgow’s Southside is a good shout for their Christmas production. They just about make the cavernous space amenable by using only part of it, and the big stage gives them lots of room to clown around, even if it makes it slightly harder to interact with the families who’ve come to watch.

Nevertheless, Red Riding Hood is pretty slow to start. Young Ruby, who likes to be known as Red, lives in a town where Christmas has been cancelled for reasons that are somewhat unclear. A whole load of rules have been put in place to keep people safe from the Big Bad Wolf that roams the forest, but that has made all the townsfolk paranoid about everything. All the things that Ruby loves have been banned, including books and brightly coloured clothes, so she determines to speak to Herbert, the mayor, to persuade him to reinstate Christmas.

The drab backdrops of the town’s official buildings reinforce what a dull place it is without Christmas, but they’re not an inspiring start, and Lewis Hetherington’s script is pretty thin in the opening scenes, kept going only by the irrepressible energy of the cast.

Things improve enormously when we move into the forest, however, with its dancing trees and atmospheric moonlit nightscape. Here we meet Grandma, an environmental activist who’s a member of Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion. She has an unhappy past with the mayor which has led her to abandon the town for rural life, but made her bitter in the process. She and Red go looking for the wolf, and on the way, they encounter lots of surprises.

It turns into an endearingly bananas production which uses the fairy tale only as a jumping-off point. Jessica Worrall’s designs place us in the modern world, and Red is a have-a-go Girl Power heroine who won’t take no for an answer. If some of the jokes are predictable then they’re all performed with enormous flair by a cast who lavish all of their energy on it, elevating some potentially slight material into something genuinely entertaining.

The standout is Michael Guest who plays the Chorus figure, the gloriously named Kevin Batwang. His open body language and marvellously expressive persona lightens up the stage every time he comes on, and it’s impossible not to find his enthusiasm infectious. Cindy Awor captures juvenile girlish energy perfectly to draw us in with Red’s childish self-belief. Ewan Miller has enormous fun as mayor Herbert, sending himself up to just the right extent, and Maureen Carr is good fun as the eco-warrior Grandma.

Dominic Hill’s production improves after that slow start. The Wolf looks fantastic. He has the comedy voice of a Lithuanian Scooby Doo, which makes him into a strangely sympathetic wild beast, though his first appearance is outrageously underdone, coming and going as though it’s all pretty mundane. The soundscape is really good, too, led by Samuel Pashby who gives the impression of playing all the instruments at once, as well as providing important voice and sound effects. Not all of the songs are memorable, but ‘80s synth numbers are great fun, and the Kraftwerk tribute number is a treat for a certain kind of parent.

Ultimately the show is endearingly batty fun, and the sock-waving climax had all the kids around me cheering for joy. I enjoyed it too, even if my socks stayed firmly on my feet.