**Please note that all pictures in this post have been ‘borrowed’ from the Wanganui Repertory Theatre Facebook page, with the exception of the final shot which comes from local paper the Midweek**
When I was a child in England a trip to the pantomime was a Christmas tradition. Mum would take us to buy a big bag of pick and mix sweets, and we’d spend two blissful hours lost in the world of a fairy-tale gone slightly nuts, booing the villain and informing the hero/ine that “he’s behiiiiind you!” before all ended happily and we went home, hyped up on drama and sugar in roughly equal proportions.
This year this wonderful Christmas tradition made its way to Whanganui with the local Repertory Theatre’s production of Little Red Riding Hood. Keen to get my Christmas comedy fix I headed along and was not disappointed.
There were songs, there was laughter, there was a ‘Dame’ (Grandmother Hood played, as tradition dictates, by a male, in this case local actor Chris McKenzie), and a delightfully cartoonish villain in Sir Roger Bounder, played by Paul Collins, who took great delight in instructing the audience to boo whenever he twirled his moustache. There was a sweet romance between Little Red (Millie Manning) and Department of Conservation worker and self-confessed nerd Lance (Benjamin Clow), and comic relief (not that we needed it) in the form of Those Two Guys, Morris (Brylee Noble) and Boris (Konrad Shaw), former Members of Parliament now turned Jacks of all Trades, who as trainee zookeepers were tasked with locating the Wolf before the full moon.
The Wolf (Lauren Karl)… so cute and winsome as she snuck around the stage stealing sandwiches and urging the audience not to give her away as she hid from the rest of the characters behind some handy bushes. This role presented the challenge of being a non-speaking part, meaning that Karl had to communicate the Wolf’s essential personality (cute and harmless, at least until the full moon), desires, and challenges (oh, those prunes!) without the use of words, something which she achieved admirably.
A real highlight for me was seeing my old friend Bridget Hurley in the role of – wait for it – Mother Hood (‘motherhood’, get it? It’s a pantomime thing), chastising mother and daughter in equal measure while lamenting the ‘man shortage’ which had left all three of them single. Her performance was made all the more impressive as I know she was nursing a sore throat and was in danger of losing her voice, but determined that the show would go on!
A certain amount of ‘adult humour’ has probably always been a part of the pantomime, but of course as a kid I never noticed. I certainly noticed – and appreciated – it this year, and had a good laugh, although the biggest laugh of the night was probably in an unscripted exchange: as the play reached its climax Little Red asked the audience whether she should accept ‘Grandmother’s’ invitation to sit by her on the bed. “No!” shouted most of the audience. “Oh, go on then!” shouted one wag, and we all dissolved into laughter.
The plot hardly needs explaining, but I’ll do so anyway. This particular version was written by Roger Hall with music by Michael Nicholas Williams and lyrics by Paul Jenden (no, I don’t know who any of those people are). The Hoods live on opposite sides of a wildlife sanctuary, which is cared for by Conservation worker Lance, and into which the Wolf has escaped from the zoo. Sir Roger Bounder is a rapacious property developer who woos both the older Hood women, taking advantage of their loneliness in an effort to buy their properties for a fraction of their worth and then build luxury apartments. When his scheme is uncovered the three women hatch a plan of their own, which leads to a comic misunderstanding between Lance and Little Red. Meanwhile, the full moon transforms the Wolf, which Morris and Boris have been trying to recapture, from a cute wee thing to a ravenous beast, and she succeeds in eating Grandmother. But all ends happily, with Grandmother safe and sound and Sir Roger deprived of his moustache and the property deeds which he thought were his, while Lance and Little Red are reunited for the final curtain.
If the pantomime comes to town in your neck of the woods, be sure to head along – you won’t be disappointed.