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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Mark Fisher

The Rock’n’Roll Panto Red Riding Hood review – music is the star in an Everyman institution

Paislie Reid and Damien James.
Panto pop … Paislie Reid and Damien James rock out. Photograph: Marc Brenner

We are deep into act two when we find ourselves outside the palm house in Sefton Park, where two Liver Birds in blue Lycra are sharing their wisdom. Played by Adam Keast and Ben Welch, they are all attitude and abrasive Scouse backchat.

It is not an extraordinary scene but it stands out because so far in Peter Rowe’s panto, there have been hardly any Merseyside references. Surprising, because the rock’n’roll panto is such an Everyman institution, on the go since the 1980s, you expect something with Liverpool written all the way through it. A show so placeless is odd.

But that is not what makes Suba Das’s production a stretch – and, at three hours, it is a big stretch. No, that is down to a show that is high on exuberance but low on wit. Rowe’s jokes are creaky – and signalling the creakiest with drum rolls does not make them any less so – and his script makes tiresome reliance on innuendo. For all the spangly costumes and boisterous performances, the actors have too little chance to show their funny bones.

It is also that the story of Red Riding Hood is ill-suited to the panto format. Yes, it has an adventurous and vulnerable lead – and here, a wide-eyed Paislie Reid leads us boldly into the woods – but even if you accept casting the wolf as a pantomime baddie, it makes little sense to present the grandmother as a cross-dressing dame.

Rebecca Levy, Jennifer Hynes and Robert Penny.
Exuberant … Rebecca Levy, Jennifer Hynes and Robert Penny. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Rowe adds romance by importing a chunk of Cinderella (Keaton Guimarães-Tolley playing an undercover prince with the gawky charm of Michael Nesmith from the Monkees) and ups the jeopardy with a plot to steal the deeds of the old woman’s cottage. But the more he strays from the archetypal story, the more convoluted it becomes.

None of this seems to concern the audience, whose primary pleasure is in the music. Under musical director Rob Green, this is the show’s great strength, whether it be the wolf (Damien James) playing heavy metal while swinging down a rope or Reid kicking off I Wanna Dance with Somebody at half speed and finishing it with a kettle-drum solo.

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