Thursday 5th December 2019 at City Varieties Music Hall, Leeds.
Who knew panto could be such a joyride as a grown up?
Red Riding Hood The Rock’n’Roll Panto is an absolute smasher. I’ve never had so much fun at a panto as I did in seeing this show – it’s wild and without fear, glorifying the naughty busty dame and poo-pooing the ‘safe’ family show. This is alternative panto in many ways but it also packs in most of the traditional elements, just with…embellishments…and sparky compromises. With this show, you’ll find rock songs for every occasion and a cast as charming as any prince – it’s naughty AND nice and filled with sugar and spice enough to have you laughing your stockings off!
The superb cast includes Lucy Keirl as our spirited, boisterous Red Riding Hood. She’s a young girl of now alright, refusing to change her ways for any fella and always with an expressive rock anthem to hand to make her feelings known. Ben Mabberley’s Prince Florizel Fortunate is an excellent counterpart both vocally and as a sincere admirer, though Mabberley’s real moments of shininess are those in which he is batting off Milly’s flirty mitts…
Comedic roles are plentiful and this cast never miss the mark – not even once. The shoddy one liners are basked in. The puns are paraded with knowing winks and nudges. The physical comedy is loud and raucous. The facial expressions alone are golden but the delivery of Peter Rowe’s fabulous writing brings all the best bits into the spotlight with great fanfare. Benjamin Stratton is the perfect snivelling scoundrel as Sir Jasper De Ville and a pretty darn dashing canine villain as Lupus the Wolf; carrying comedy in one paw and villainy in the other, he’s here to win.
It’s also a cast of fantastic duos. Lana Walker and Mike Slader are hugely entertaining as resident morons Dodgit and Bodgit, bringing all the gurning idiocy and prat-falling of Home Alone villains to this lively adventure. Laura Sillett and Rachael Garnett get big laughs as Little Miss Muffet and Bo Peep – both of whom rock an Essex drawl at intervals in the name of soap drama mockery. Sillett also pairs with Kenny Davis, whose take on servant Ruffles is a joy; cheeky grin and energetic limbs work side by side to offer up a real lovable scamp with a flair for footwork (Choreographer: Sam Spencer-Lane). And that footwork is delivered as Davis in turn pairs up with our princely Mabberley for the kind of quirky sequence which has you smiling along before you even realise it.
Even with such a multi-talented cast, there is a clear triumphant star: this show belongs to Simon Nock and his thoroughly fabulous Grandma Millicent Merry. Our Milly is the most lustful of all the grandmas and the very best kind of dame: permanently smirking and twinkling as she causes chaos and calamity in the narrative strands she invades. Apparently Nock has been away from playing the Dame for five years. Well, you’d never know it – not a spot of rust or a creaking line, just pure unadulterated fun as each naughty bawdy quip flies smoothly past the little people who are too busy enjoying the sights and songs. Frankly, Nock couldn’t have done a better job if he tried – I for one will be expecting a signed copy of his Dame-ing for Dummies when it hits the shelves.
Rob Salmon’s direction is full of fun. From comic entrances to whiplash sound effects which really make those comic reactions pop, the whole thing hurtles by beautifully. Not content to just have a brilliant cast of the human kind who play multiple instruments apiece, he also gives us adorable puppet animals and some lovely theatrical surprises. Musical numbers (Musical Director: Dan De Cruz) are inspired – the brilliant comic take on Etta James’ saucy classic You Can Leave Your Hat On, performed by minxy Milly and the wolf, is a real highlight. Judith Croft’s designs are equally brilliant, simply taking us from forest to cottage and back again while offering up some super fun visions of Milly and co in a vast array of vibrant get-ups. I don’t think a costume has ever made me so happy as that streetlight themed beauty – truly hilarious.
Essentially, this is such a great triumph because it nails panto on both levels; it’s a bawdy cackle fest for the grown-ups and an exciting spectacle of big characters and big musical numbers to keep the children happy. Frankly, this is something along the lines of one of Rupaul’s comedy queens pitching up at the theatre before her gig at the drag bar down the road. Milly Merry is an absolute delight; always toeing the line and gleefully crossing it whenever she thinks she can get away with it in a completely enchanting act of theatrical rebellion.
Some of the puns are so on the nose that I was fearing for the innocence of my six year old companion but there is nothing to fear here – the coy smut goes right over deely-bopper-clad heads as they simply enjoy the spectacle and the fun running rampant on stage. I will say proceed with some caution if you have slightly older kids who may find their jaw hitting the floor. But the sweet six year old was in fact so taken with Milly that when the lovable lass had been off stage for a few minutes, there was a whine of ‘I want Millllyy’ – that’s skill. The real solid gold of this set-up though is that while many pantos have something for everyone, few to none are quite as entertaining and genuinely hilarious for the grown ups as this one.
From the moment the bubbly Fairy Cherry Blossom (Claire Greenway) arrives in a haze of pyrotechnic smoke to introduce our show to the lively finale party, this is an absolute winner proving panto really can be as much fun for grown ups as the children. Compared to this, other pantos are positively clinical; this is an enticing, tongue in cheek invitation to join a whacky band of fun-loving fiends and friends for one hell of a naughty but nice wild ride. Highly recommended!
Red Riding Hood plays City Varieties Music Hall until January 12th 2020 and you can find tickets here. Age advisory: 4+