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Review: CUADC/Footlights Pantomime

Ever heard of the Big Bad Wolf?

As the last day of week 7 rolled around, I was excited at the prospect of leaving Girton in the evening (had done nothing all day – is it just me or have the strikes brought a distinctly holiday-esque vibe to term?), knowing that I would be in for a treat. Unable to secure a ticket for the CUADC/Footlights Pantomime last year before they all sold out, I was expecting incredible performances, great singing, and top-class comedy at this production of Red Riding Hood, and was not disappointed.

Whilst loosely following the plot of the well-known fairytale, Red Riding Hood is set in Backwater, an idyllic town under the dictatorship of the Big Bad Wolf, whose complicated personality (somehow tyrannical yet alluring) was perfectly brought to life by Jamie Bisping. After a fit of teenage rebellion, and guided by her pantomime Dame fairy godmother, Red Riding leaves her mother and school friends behind in search of her father Robin Hood. The small plot twist that derived Red’s name from her mother Ruby Riding and father Robin Hood is just one example of the incredible thought and writing skill that went into creating this show, for which Adrianna Hunt and Seth Jordan must be commended – even their slightly repetitive Brexit jokes drew peals of laughter every time.

By the end of the play, Red’s mother, friends, and Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men were united in order to bring down the wolf and achieve the happy ending that we know so well from most versions of the story, all the while teaching the audience about the importance of friends and family – how we are united, even though at times we may seem at odds.

On the whole, the standard of acting on display was exceptional, with stand out performances especially coming from Amaya Holman as the Dame, whose Geordie-Australian-Essex accent combination only added to her excellent energy and engagement with the audience in a demanding role. Anna Wright perfectly captured Red’s rebellious innocence, a performance which was only enhanced by her clear, powerful voice that reflected the versatility of the score. Despite portraying a smaller role, Mariam Abdel-Razek stole the second act with a solo that displayed her incredible voice as well as impressive comedic timing that had the audience rolling in their seats. Personally, I found Craig and Keith to be overacted, occasionally detracting from the Big Bad Wolf, but their characters developed throughout the play, and were the right fit by the end. The same could be said for Annabelle Haworth’s performance as Ruby, the exasperated mother, but by the end of the show, her commitment to her role only helped to promote her incredible voice – one of the best in the show.

Coming to my love of musical theatre through playing in pit bands, I was overjoyed to witness the range of music on display in the show. Whilst Laurence T-Stannard and Samuel Macdonald’s tunes were often simple, the energy of each song perfectly suited its own place in the pantomime, from the cheery opening number, to the beautiful duet between Ruby and Red that showed off both actors’ talents as well as their clear commitment to rehearsal, as their voices blended beautifully. Musical arrangement was a triumph throughout the show, supported by no-nonsense choreography that only added to the performances and never detracted from them.

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Credit: Bridget Tiller

The meta-theatrical notes throughout were always well-received by the audience, peppered throughout the show, and I appreciated the references to other musicals and the noticeable Waitress and Six influences on the score, the Wicked parody, “the Wolf will see you know” being a personal favourite.

Credit must be given to the costume designers, whose 80s inspired outfits for Red’s school friends were playful whilst also complimenting each other and expanding the personality of the character. This quartet worked well together, with each actor giving a strong performance in their own right – Fintan Quinn’s tragically pathetic portrayal of Peter (as in “…and the Wolf”) particularly carried momentum throughout the show. As well as costume design, Maddie Paige and Emily Senior must be praised for the beautiful set, designed like a child’s playground, which allowed added humour as the characters slid down the slide and sat on the swings. It was most likely an effect of opening night, but occasionally transitions between scenes were slightly too long, and would have been perhaps better supported by a voiceover or more instrumental filler.

Whilst the actors maintained the energy throughout, the pantomime was perhaps too long at nearly three hours excluding the interval, losing momentum in the middle as the audience became distracted from the plot. The attempt to bring it back to the original fairytale plot actually came to hinder the otherwise brilliant writing. Despite this, the impetus was regained towards the end, culminating in a wonderful chorus number that kept me going, as I sang it on repeat to myself on the cycle back to Girton, riding past hoards of pilgrims to Cindies.

In summary, I would thoroughly recommend taking an evening out of Week eight to go and see Red Riding Hood. I spent the evening smiling and laughing, drawn in by the believable performances and fun energy of the show that carried us all on a (rather long) journey through the woods and towards friendship and love.

Rating: 4/5 stars