The CUADC/Footlights Pantomime is one of the most highly anticipated events on the Cambridge theatrical calendar, and this year’s Red Riding Hood was no exception.
After seeing the show, calling it simply Red Riding Hood feels deeply inadequate; it is more Red Riding Hood meets Robin Hood in a clever pun, with a little bit of the Three Little Pigs thrown in to emphasise the villainy of the Big Bad Wolf, if his song ‘Big, Bad, and Badder’ wasn’t enough to drive the point home. If there is a criticism that could be made of this pantomime, (and, in all fairness, it’s quite necessary to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find things to criticise), it is that at times it feels a little bit overstuffed with concepts, storylines and subplots; as if the writers had several years’ worth of Panto material stored up, only to blow it all in one almighty extravaganza.
And ‘extravaganza’ is exactly the right word to describe this show; from sparkling or monogrammed costumes to fantastic choreography, trapdoor entrances and even a confetti canon, the entire performance is full to the brim of entertainment. The performances are excellent too, and showcase some of Cambridge’s most lauded talent; I’ll run a quick highlight reel here, but there was simply too much brilliance to namecheck everyone! Amaya Holman opens the show as the Dame and also self-described “fairy godmother of puberty”; she has an excellent belt and growling property to her voice that channels Christina Aguilera. Tom Nunan, in his second Footlights Panto, also takes a hilarious turn along the line of the traditional Pantomime Dame, cross-dressing as Red’s Grandmother, who loves to party with Merlin; (“Camelot? More like Came- A- Lot!”) He also plays Norm the Butler, henchman to the Big Bad Wolf. The Wolf himself is played by Jamie Bisping in an arguably show-stealing performance that is as self-aware as it is nuanced, and fuelled some of the greatest laughs of the play.
The rest of the pantomime also generated its fair share of laughter, however.
I suppose that is to be expected from a Footlights production, but the comedy is not cursory, Cambridge-only humour, but a range of wordplay, political commentary and physical slapstick. One of the comedic highlights came in Act 2, with the arrival of the hysterical Percy Pig, played by Mariam Abdel-Razek. The faux power ballad ‘Bring Home the Bacon’ was a true highlight of the show, featuring invocations not only of Liam Neeson’s Taken, but also, as the chorus emphatically reminds us, Taken 2, Taken 3 and Taken 4.
Finally, to the heart of the show; Red Riding Hood herself.
It might seem funny to come to the main character at the end of the review, but truly this show is so chock-full of characters that sometimes it seems Red is only there to tie them all together, although this does not discredit the truly fantastic performance of Anna Wright, who blends naivety with hormone-induced ferociousness perfectly. Red’s greatest moments are the ones with her mother, Annabelle Haworth’s ‘Ruby Riding’, and navigating the ups and downs of parent-child relationships through the coming of age. The process of growing up was itself a huge feature of the play, from the aforementioned fairy godmother of puberty, to Red’s ragtag group of friends at various stages of development, even the set; which was dressed to look like a child’s playground with chalk drawings adorning the walls. Amongst all the humour and showmanship, this lent a really poignant message to the panto, a form that many of us likely associate with our childhoods, and family at Christmastime. This was the little kernel of love and joy that grounded all of the energy into a satisfying conclusion, and was, perhaps even more so than the jokes and bonanza, the reason the audience (and yours truly) left smiling.