LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD at the Battersea Arts Centre
“all three performers worked harder than they should have to with Little Red Robin Hood”
The Sleeping Trees return to the Battersea Arts Centre with yet another mashed up pantomime, and this year it is the turn of Robin Hood and Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Robin Hood has a lively script. That’s as you would expect from writers as talented as James Dunnell-Smith, John Woodburn and Joshua George Smith (with an able assist from Musical Director and Sound Designer Ben Hales). But, and it pains me to say this, the overall production is a disappointment.
Let’s start with the premise that kicks off the show. It might seem cute to hand the show over to a couple of earnest ushers, when the cast inexplicably—o.k not so inexplicably at this moment in history—get caught in a Tube strike, and special guest star Cher’s helicopter gets improbably stuck in mid air. And it’s no fault of performers Simone Cornelius, Miya James and Sam Rix that they get handed a script to improvise around, that was obviously written for the usual cast of Dunnell-Smith, Woodburn and Smith. Add to that some hastily made props, and some sketchy costumes, and the overall effect of Little Red Robin Hood is not of a plucky trio going on to save the show, but of three performers out of their depth, despite their best efforts.
The plot of Little Red Robin Hood is a nicely updated version of Little Red Riding Hood (aka Little Red) who wants to meet her hero, Robin Hood. Little Red has a couple of problems—one is that she is not a very good shot with the bow and arrow, and the second is that nobody knows what has happened to Robin Hood. The evil Sheriff of Nottingham and the Big Bad Wolf have joined forces which is very bad news for the citizens of both Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, since the Sheriff wants to make them all homeless by pulling down their houses, and putting up a big car park. The Sheriff is seemingly untroubled by things like planning permission, and apparently has the power to throw anyone he doesn’t like in jail—again, not totally implausible in this day and age. Things look bad for brave Little Red and her mum. And that’s to say nothing of Red’s Grandma, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cher—if Cher lived in Sherwood Forest, which is almost completely unlike Los Angeles, where the real Cher lives. Anyway. There are some brilliant plot twists, involving long lost lovers reunited, a long lost Robin Hood found, and a pantomime unicorn. All ends happily as Little Red switches her red cloak for one of woodland green.
Part of the problem with Little Red Robin Hood is that The Sleeping Trees are victims of their own success. At their best, they are unbeatable at the pantomime mashup, and it’s noticeable when they fail to reach such high standards. Little Red Robin Hood, as a children’s show, is actually a good piece of educational theatre, since it is all about teaching kids how to be an audience at a pantomime. The performers, particularly Sam Rix, do an excellent job of teaching the children how to boo a villain, learn the stock responses, and how to leave, and return, after the interval. Simone Cornelius is a versatile performer with a good voice. Miya James, as the resident Californian, is, not surprisingly, the most out of her depth—Americans don’t do pantomime, and always look bemused when you try to explain it to them. In fairness, pantomime does sound an odd thing to put on stage, if you haven’t grown up with the traditions. But all three performers worked harder than they should have to with Little Red Robin Hood.
It’s probably too soon to predict when we’ll return to a world that’s recognizable pre 2020, and perhaps we never will. But that’s why it’s so important to be able to rely on the things that anchor us in a time of such unpredictable, and unwelcome, change. Particularly for our children, and their families. One of those things is The Sleeping Trees’ annual pantomime mashup for audiences of all ages. Isn’t that what the holiday season is all about?
Reviewed on 8th December 2022
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Ali Wright
Previously reviewed at this venue: