First published in The Times, Friday April 1 2016
Was there ever a more maligned creature in folklore than the wolf? The creature’s appalling public image can be traced all the way back to Aesop, and in European fairy tales the big bad wolf is either a predatory beast, devouring grandmothers and innocent young girls without remorse, or hoist with his own petard: lured to the boiling pot by little pigs and mother goats.
This new family show, inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, dares to suggest a softer underbelly to the misunderstood lupine. Scott Gilmour’s play, with songs by Claire McKenzie, presents a world in which humans and wolves live side-by-side in mutual fear and loathing. Granny (Ann Louise Ross), a seasoned wolf-slayer, tells her granddaughter, Red (Marli Siu), never to stray off the path, for fear of encountering one of the dangerous beasties. ‘They don’t feel pity, they don’t feel guilt, and they always go for the kill,’ she warns.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
So far, so familiar, but when Red does venture into the woods, she’s fortunate enough to run into Lyca (Cristian Ortega), a gentle young cub who’s more interested in snaffling the contents of Red’s picnic basket than tearing into human flesh. When their friendship blossoms, the pair hatch a scheme to bring the wolf pack and the townspeople together, only for their plan to backfire when the carnivorous Big Bad Wolf (Billy Mack) returns to the area.
While the play is being staged by the Dundee Rep Ensemble to coincide with the Easter holidays, the production, directed by Gilmour, has the look and feel of a summer pageant, performed in the round, with a colourful set and costumes designed by Richard Evans and narration provided by Tyler Collins’s rubber-faced minstrel, Lute. Unpredictable Scottish weather aside, it is not unrealistic to imagine the show being performed in an al fresco setting.
Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
McKenzie’s songs, which range from ballads to an amusing pastiche of Who Will Buy? from Oliver! are exuberantly performed by the seven-strong ensemble, who gamely throw themselves into multiple roles and some busy choreography. While there’s little of the darkness we’ve come to expect of fairy tale adaptations, there’s enough in the way of atmosphere and fully rounded characterisation to entertain grown-ups as well as wee ones.
Siu and Ortega, in particular, make for engaging leads, delivering the show’s message about friendship and acceptance with an appealing sincerity that thankfully stays on the right side of sentimentality.
Box office: 01382 223530, to April 9. Dundeerep.co.uk