It takes a deft hand to take an institution like Liverpool’s Everyman theatre’s annual rock ‘n’ roll panto and update it while remaining true to a much-loved civic tradition.
Hats off, then, to the team behind Red Riding Hood, who have tweaked the format with enough subtlety – a dash more modern pop here, a steel drum and some beatboxing there – that both younger audience members and those of a more mature vintage can feel like they are on home turf.
If one were so minded, one could even see a contemporary political allegory at work here; a ravenous wolf at large in the forest outside the village of Soggy Bottom, the spectre of the ‘other’ held aloft by the rapacious local gentry as a pretext for tax hikes and the curtailment of rights. One probably isn’t so minded, however, because of all the saucy jokes, sequins and water pistol fights. This is not the place for nuanced satire, or indeed a plot that makes any significant sense at all.
Loosely, Maisie Merry, a young woman with a red hood and a thriving bakery (a conceit that serves mostly to facilitate ‘master baker’ references and cream pie slapstick) finds herself pitted against landowner Lucille De Ville (Jennifer Hynes), who plans to double taxes until her young rival is forced to hand over her business. Merry, played with charisma and strong vocals by young Liverpudlian Paislie Reid, is meanwhile torn between a well-meaning but sappy prince who has disguised himself as Wally the Woodcutter (Keaton Guimarães-Tolley) and a socially outcast, guitar-weilding wolfman (Damien Prince, channelling Jack Black).
A paper-thin plot, but nobody was there for the storytelling. They were there to see a 10-strong cast, noticeably more diverse than in recent years, belt their way through Adele, Beyoncé, Pharrell Williams and – of course – Duran Duran’s Hungry Like The Wolf. There to see Ben Welch put in a raucous drag shift as Grandma Merry and local panto comedy legend Adam Keast verbally torture some unfortunate dad in the front row. There for almost three hours of joyfully communal, entirely daft fun, just like nothing had changed since this time last year. And yet, in a few positive ways, it has.
Photos: Marc Brenner
Red Riding Hood is at the Everyman, Liverpool until January 14, 2023. For more information, click here.
This review was also published in the i.