Horse and Bamboo Theatre: Red Riding Hood The Boo, Rossendale. 12 December 2011 Reviewed by Beccy Smith
Horse and Bamboo’s first foray into the adaptation of a classic fairytale revels in a delicious combination of the scary and the playful. Drawing from the tale’s rich history and multiple readings, including the Norse myth of spring’s escape from winter’s jaws (in which the Little Red’s red hood represents the stolen sun), Alison Duddle’s treatment steps delicately amongst various interpretations to create a deceptively simple telling that nonetheless resonates with symbolism and menace.
The two performers, Jonny Quick and Frances Merriman, are the anchors that carry us through the production’s diverse storytelling approaches and techniques. Jonny is always hungry – the show almost doesn’t begin as he wants to nip out for a sausage roll, whilst Frances is excited to share her collection of all things red. Her most treasured possession: a tasty pink-iced bun become an edible symbol of the protagonist (that) she puppets, it’s delicious demise threatened, or promised, from the start. These two characters and their careful positioning in-between the dramatic and storytelling worlds offered an easy point of entry to the material and to the performance’s conventions.
The production moved easily between miniature theatre, mask work, rod puppetry, shadow, film, song and storytelling: it offered a wonderful introduction to some of the pleasures and surprises of visual theatre (of which for me the company’s mask work begins to feel the most staid). These shifts in mode allowed the story at times to touch on the real darkness of the fairytale’s threat. As an echoing sound effect that far out-scales the apparent safety of a miniature home where Red Riding Hood is tucked up in bed, or an unseen animated shadow trailing her through the woods and able to completely disappear behind trees, the wolf exudes genuine menace which sent children scurrying back to their seats (Loz Kaye’s score really contributed to the creeping sense of horror). As Jonny Quick with a wiggly extended furry nose gleefully stuffing a cake into his mouth the menace was contained, though perhaps more performatively subversive in its implications.
All in all, this was a thoughtful, exciting and playful production. Playing to sell-out audiences in the company’s own venue, The Boo, which hasn’t long been able to offer public performances, Little Red Riding is a wonderful offer to local Lancashire audiences. Horse and Bamboo are to be congratulated for demonstrating just what a rich and welcoming experience visual theatre can offer to new audiences.