Little Red Riding Hood, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

AFTER months of lockdowns and cancellations, it’s a joy to see local dramatic society members back on stage doing their thing, and this is the time that the amateurs start their pantomimes.

At their Bell Street home in Shaftesbury the company has chosen a new mash-up version of Little Red Riding Hood, written by Tracy Rogers and being performed all around the country this year. It calls for a huge cast and attempts a sort of diluted “Into the Woods” trick, bringing in characters and music from a number of sources.

What it does is to create a dame,  Granny Smith, who can steal the show and that’s just what the energetic, charming, self-deprecating Martin Porter does in spades. When he (or should I say “they”?) is/are on stage it’s high octane dance, jokes and fun.

The story itself is complicated, set in the village of Nether Regions in the 1950s, where the squire, (Ponsonby-Smythe, played by the versatile Charles Dillon as any one of the entitled faceless wonders of the current cabinet) is after money and keeping his charming daughter Lady Penelope (Daisy-Mai Booth) from the grubby clutches of the peasant tenants. Granny Smith is the impoverished, man-hunting mother of Mrs Ruby Hood (Charly Belles-Smith), in turn the mother of Little Red (the spirited Sophie Morgan), who leads a gang of rude, noisy, grumpy teenagers.

The squire’s dopey henchmen are Smash and Grab, (the lively Jade Hall and Anthony Atwood). They have a mirror knockabout duo in Frank and Stein (Jon Corry and Marie Stubbs as comic Bill and Ben style monstrosities), henchpeople of Professor Lupus, who, if you know your JK Rowling, is, of course, the wolf, and is played by Alex Chase in mid-Presley mode. Then there is Dr Jekyll, played by Bryan Farrell as a hirsute sawbones in thrall to the lupine charms. And Countess Bloodlust (Elleanor Dillon) who has seen off a score of husbands. And Count Twothree (a good audience joke), a Dracula figure played with Hungarian accent and aplomb by Dave Cromwell.

Charlotte Berry’s heroic Jack provided a showstopping rendition of Taylor Swift’s Everything has Changed with Lady P.  Rebecca Jobling’s Mystic Peg seems to teeter between goody and baddy,

And then there are the DooWaps (Denise Baldwin, Sue Tabor and Jennifer Trenchard), the Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker, in the form of Tom Crockford, Stephanie Prideaux-Aspinall and Sam Stubbs, and a group of kids and chorus.

It must have been a huge job for directors Joni de Winter and Susan Grant  to move this number of people around the stage, and the sets themselves were shifted while characters were on stage. The almost three-hour running time would have been much longer had the scenes needed a curtain.

There were 12 tuneful songs, made familiar by performers from Jeff Lynne, Etta James and Elvis Presley to Billie Piper, Michael Jackson and ABBA. There is no doubt in my mind that it would have benefitted hugely from a live band, whose members can always react to the performers in a way that canned music cannot.  But I understand the problems of both rehearsal and licensing.

There are many good ideas in this show, and many excellent performances. I look forward to seeing Martin Porter’s damely CV grow, in a show that allows a simple story to shine through the flurry of ideas that don’t always make sense together.

The show delighted the young audience, who shouted some unusually cogent suggestions.  It continues until Saturday 5th February.


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