Little Red And The Wolf
Until April 9
Neither God Nor Angel
Seen at Oran Mor, Glasgow;
at Traverse, Edinburgh,
April 5 to 9
Reviewed by Mark Brown
An adult watching Little Red And The Wolf, Dundee Rep’s new show for children aged five and over, will find the experience akin to viewing a modern kids’ animation film. Like the Toy Story or Kung Fu Panda movies it is carefully balanced, not only to entertain children, but also to amuse grown-ups.
Writer/director Scott Gilmour’s script abounds with jokes for the long in tooth. For instance, there’s a pretty good gag about the Three Little Pigs, property development and Richard Branson.
However, the show is, first and foremost, a fable for young children; a fact that is underlined by the story being set in the village of Fayble. In that village, where there stands a statue to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, children are taught that “wolves and humans do not mix”.
Meanwhile, in the forest, Wolfmother, haunted by generations of killings of wolves by people, is teaching her cubs the exact same thing. Cue the taboo-busting friendship of Little Red Riding Hood and her wee wolf pal Lyca, and their battle against fear, prejudice and (the common enemy of humans and wolves alike) The Big Bad Wolf.
A play with songs, the show is, despite some forays into metatheatrical humour, an almost defiantly traditional production. Richard Evans’s set combines a stylish, sparse forest (complete with bird and animal noises) with garish pantomime backcloths.
Most members of the strong ensemble play multiple characters (Billy Mack’s quick changes between the mayor and “lupine historian” Mr Dandy are hilarious), but not everyone is equipped for the demands of musical theatre. Tyler Collins (who plays the jester/narrator Lute, among others) boasts a fine singing voice, but Marli Siu (Little Red), although she acts the lead role perfectly well, is exposed when she is required to sing.
A little uneven and lacking somewhat in momentum, Little Red And The Wolf is a charming piece of storytelling nevertheless.
There’s storytelling of a very different kind in Tim Barrow’s new lunchtime play Neither God Nor Angel. It’s two years since the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh staged Barrow’s ambitious, but badly structured, Union; an imagining of key events surrounding the Treaty of Union of 1707. Now the writer is back on similar territory; this time we’re in the Holyrood chamber of King James VI on the eve of his journey south to claim the English crown in 1603.
The King (Jimmy Chisholm on excellent form) is having second thoughts about the whole Union of the Crowns malarkey. In fact, he’s on the brink of “gi’en it the swerve”.
Before long he finds himself face-to-face with William, a servant boy (Gavin Wright) who isn’t afraid to tell his monarch a few home truths. As the Rennish wine flows, James veers between an imperious sense of entitlement and vulnerable self-doubt.
The King is still pining for his long-deceased favourite, the French duke Esme Stewart. In his inebriation, he becomes increasingly generous, unguarded and, to William’s considerable consternation, lecherous.
The play bristles with interesting historical observations and suppositions. Yet, somehow, it contrives to feel like an unfinished sketch.
This is ironic as, whatever its limitations, lunchtime theatre does tend to bring a distinct discipline to playwriting. However, just as Union was more than a little ungainly, so Neither God Nor Angel seems to be in need of some dramaturgical intervention.
That said, the production is a splendid way to spend a lunch hour. This is due overwhelmingly to Chisholm’s characterisation of James.
Resplendent in red hair and beard, his King is, by turns, an over-bearing autocrat, a poet of some skill and, delightfully, a humorously animated drinker.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on April 3, 2016
© Mark Brown