Red Riding Hood
Little did Greenwich Theatre know ten years ago that its annual pantomime would grow to become one of the best in the business. Under the helm of writer, Dame and director Andrew Pollard, this year's Red Riding Rood celebrates a decade of top quality Christmas entertainment and proves the power of Pollard and pantomime to enchant audiences young and old alike.
A title rarely seen, Pollard's Red Riding Hood centres around Scarlett and her theatre-in-the-wood-owning Grandmother. When the wicked Count Fracula arrives on the scene, he sets about a plan to purchase the theatre, knock down the trees and frack the life out of the forest.
The joy of a title such as Red Riding Hood is that it provides the creative team with plenty of scope to put their own mark on it. Set in the Swiss Alps, Cleo Pettit's costumes capture the essence of Swedish style and add plenty of sparkle and spangle, including some lively cuckoo clocks on just one of many outlandish costumes belonging to Granny Fanny.
Returning from a hiking holiday astride a mountain goat, Pollard's entrance as the quasi-Damsel in a Dirndl sets the pace of the evening. As one of the country's leading Dames, Pollard's expertise in the genre grows each season, creating a production that celebrates the genre and takes it forward into the twenty-first century.
Principal Girls can so often be passive Princesses, but in Scarlett, Pollard has created a unique role model that contemporary pantomime must strive for. Neither tom-boyish, nor sickly sweet but perfectly balanced and believable, Kirsty Marie Ayers brings truth and integrity to the role. It is she who makes the decisions, it is she who leads the fight; Little Red is a big step forward.
With some of the best vocals of the season, Ayers and her Woodcutter-cum-Prince Alex Spinney belt out musical director Steve Markwick's upbeat numbers with energy and passion and in true Greenwich style are upstaged by some cheeky owls in one of many moments of comedy gold.
Greenwich always retains the necessary dose of anarchy in its productions and, alongside a balloon ballet, this year's highlight is a comedy routine in which the characters try to get to grips with their town's folk dance. When pom-poms and tiddely-poos get mixed up alongside slap-slaps, chaos ensues and leads to one of the most skilled executions of a front cloth scene in recent memory that acknowledges music hall, variety and pantomime's roots and the very nature of British humour.
From Anthony Spargo's rubber-faced, rubber-clad, Mick Jagger-inspired Fracula to Alim Jayda's superstar of a swine Piggy Smalls, each member of the cast's contribution to the comedy ensures the focus remains on the show with the limelight firmly set on establishing the narrative and driving the plot forward.
Technical wizardry such as this year's 3D sequence and a lumberjack-inspired, almost-magic trick appear superfluous to the wonderment summoned by each rotation of Pettitt's stunning set and the joy of watching Pollard's Fanny and Martin Johnston's Herr Brush in their second pairing on the pantomime stage.
Indeed, the family feel is one of the strength's of the Greenwich pantomime, with many faces returning each season and passing on their expertise to new members of the team such as Dawnita Smith, whose majestic sprite Silvana adds a touch of refined glamour and regality to proceedings.
The Greenwich Theatre recently received a 62% local government cut, echoing the fate of Granny's own woodland theatre. However, under the Artistic and Executive Director, the theatre continues to go from strength to strength.
In the words of Herr Brush, "Here's to the theatre, long may it flourish."
Reviewer: Simon Sladen