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Puppetry & Play - Sam Lane discusses Red Riding Hood & the Wolf

Posted on 21 March 2018

Household objects are set to spring to life on stage at the Belgrade Theatre this Easter as a radical reimagining of the story of Red Riding Hood and the Wolf arrives on our B2 stage. Presented by Islington’s internationally acclaimed puppet theatre company Little Angel Theatre, this innovative family show will put a fresh spin on the familiar in more ways than one, subverting traditional fairytale tropes while turning everyday items into the ingredients for a fantastic adventure.

Ahead of World Puppetry Day on Wednesday 21 March, the company’s Artistic Director, Samantha Lane, spoke to us about the novel ways that puppetry is used within the show, and the importance of imaginative play for children and grown-ups alike.

“The central conceit of this show is that all the action takes place in the bedroom of a little girl called Robyn,” she explains. “Robyn becomes frustrated by the story of Red Riding Hood that she’s reading and so she decides to create her own version, using only the objects she has around her.

“This means that all of the puppets in the show are created out of ordinary things that you might find in any bedroom, the idea being that there’s nothing in the show that kids couldn’t do themselves at home. So we have things like hockey sticks and tennis rackets becoming trees in a forest. Mother is represented by teapot, and Grandmother is composed of a pillow and a duvet in Robyn’s bed.

“The Wolf is the only fully-formed, manipulable puppet, and he’s her cuddly toy. Robyn’s a big fan of wolves, so she has a lot of pictures of them around her walls, which we also use to create some of the shadow puppetry in the show.”

Puppets

Uniquely, Robyn’s building of her story out of whatever materials she has to hand – including the characters and plot of the story as well as the physical stuff around her – is mirrored in the creative process undertaken jointly by writer Jon Barton, director Jimmy Grimes, designer Alison Alexander and solo performer Charlotte Croft. Unlike in some conventional theatre set-ups where the director issues instructions to a team, the nature of this production means that it has entailed a much more collaborative, almost devised approach, input from each person key to driving the narrative forward.

“Even in some puppetry shows, it would be more a case of a director telling puppeteers what to do, but because of the way this show works, it has been particularly collaborative. The script is essentially one long piece of verse, so it’s been the job of the actor, director and designer to work together to bring it to life from Robyn’s perspective. I didn’t direct this show, but I did pull together the creative team, and it was really important to me that they were all wonderful creative storytellers.”

In a sense, Little Angel Theatre’s version of Red Riding Hood takes the story back to its folk tale roots, to a time when no one version was seen as canon and the story would have been reformed and reinvented with each retelling. It’s partly that imaginative freedom suggested by the fairytale form which Lane felt lent itself to a puppetry show.

“Whenever I’m choosing a show using puppetry as a form, the question I always ask is whether this story can possibly be told without it. If the answer is no, then I know that it’s the right choice. For this show, it seemed particularly fitting because it felt like a more authentic way of representing how Robyn uses her imagination. I think that bringing in other actors would have disrupted that sense of the whole thing playing out in her head.”

Wolf

Sadly, it’s a pleasure that people are perhaps missing out on more today. In our current culture of 24-hour entertainment-on-demand, it can be hard for children and adults alike to find the space to simply play.

“I certainly remember making up stories and expressing myself in a similar way to Robyn when I was a child, but I think things have changed somewhat since then just in terms of the opportunities and technology available to children. When you’ve got access to smartphones and tablets and things like that, the feeling of being left alone and being bored isn’t something people experience in the same way – we’re able to fill any voids with constant entertainment now.

“I think there could always be more time for playing, and one of the great things about this show is that it requires its audience to suspend their disbelief and use their own imaginations, rather than just passively receiving the story.”

It’s this delight in creativity and permission to let imaginations loose that allows Red Riding Hood and the Wolf to speak to audiences of all ages. This is a show for anyone who’s ever found something lacking in the stories they’ve been told, ever had a great idea of how to make things better, or simply had the urge to play pretend. It’s a timely story about the magic of make-believe that speaks to the child in all of us.

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf runs at the Belgrade Theatre Tuesday 3 – Thursday 5 April. Tickets are available to book now.

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Nov 2, 2017, 9:22 am