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EXTENDED lockdown and empty theatres make life very difficult for pantomime which, at its most successful, captures the quintessential family party atmosphere and a sense of togetherness.
So hats off to The Arts Centre Hounslow for this live-streamed production, where participation involved working out who of the familiar characters present is actually the Big Bad Wolf’s accomplice — and who will be eaten and by whom.
In this decidedly untraditional Red Riding Hood story, there is a forest, a girl in red, a granny and of course a wolf.
But this is not every child’s nightmare filled with terror and wild imagination. Instead it’s a tale earthed in a kind of cynicism that allows us to be amused by the story but not in any way affected by it — a pantomime where magic is replaced by realism and folk tradition by a kind of online mystery quiz.
There are other characters, too — three pigs, a huntsman and a prince. Granny has not been eaten when Red Riding Hood reaches her flower-patterned cottage, instead she is busy ministering to the wolf and letting him recline in her bed while she buzzes about in the kitchen.
References to Harry Potter, an array of pop stars and current news items shred any fairy tale atmosphere there might have been but nevertheless offer a kind of inclusivity. And some boisterous singing and dancing vitalises the action and spreads the energy to onlookers.
The actors came up with tight performances and are to be commended for a professional and ardent commitment in playing to an audience whose responses they could only guess at.
Daniella Piper had a beautifully sweet central presence as Red Riding Hood, while Danni Payne, Emma Powell and Philip Ryder formed a delightfully disparate trio of pigs and Adam Russell-Owen as Wolf Wolfram gave us a petty criminal with whom we can empathise, rather than the original ravenous demon epitomising a nature red in tooth and claw.
The show was worth watching for the mystery elements aimed at children and for the exuberance of the cast and what is lost online in the camaraderie of actor-audience rapport is gained in the light-hearted quirkiness of the story.
It's a reminder that theatre is alive and kicking and we can all still participate in it.
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