Red Riding Hood

Horse + Bamboo

Scottish Storytelling Centre

From 31 July 2014 to 17 August 2014

Rating: ****

Review by David Chadderton

Scottish Storytelling Centre is always an essential stop for anyone who likes family shows, even if you don't have a family to take, as the standard is always high and the permanent theatre is one of the nicest venues on the Fringe.

Rossendale-based mask and puppet theatre company Horse + Bamboo's version of classic fairytale Red Riding Hood is told by just two people, Jonny Quick and Nix Wood, using a variety of performance styles including animation and good old-fashioned slapstick, as well as the aforementioned masks and puppets, which are all beautifully designed.

The adaptation confronts two issues at once: making a story that could be read in five minutes last for ten times that and making a wolf eating your main characters not too scary for the youngest members of the audience.

So Jonny and Nix, as versions of themselves, filled with childish enthusiasm and curiosity, explore how to tell this story, with Nix playing Red and Jonny—well, Nix doesn't believe that he is scary enough to be the wolf, but he decides to prove otherwise in a slightly underhand way.

Jonny also plays mum, a role bordering on panto dame with a cake baking scene very much like a panto slosh scene but without the mess.

There are multiple versions of most characters at different scales. Red is sometimes a talkative puppet and sometimes a mute mask character, performed very expressively by Wood. The Wolf is sometimes comic, as Quick dons furry nose and ears and banters with the audience, and sometimes quite sinister as various puppets, one of them life-sized, which are also mute.

There are moments when the wolf appears conflicted about whether to look after or eat Red, which don't entirely fit with the traditional tale but are interesting touches. But then a lot of the story has slight variations: we don't see the wolf in bed in grandmother's nightie, and this adaptation doesn't shy away from having its characters eaten rather than locked in the wardrobe as in some later versions.

The production looks great and has some wonderfully imaginative touches to the direction, with performances that fit perfectly the style of the show. It's truly a show aimed at younger children, but there is plenty to interest the adults in the audience as well.