Away from the glitz and the camp and the general hyperactivity of panto, the Unity offers an alternative, gentle style of festive storytelling that has really carved its own niche. In recent years that could be down to the sensibilities and stylings of Ellesmere Port-based Action Transport Theatre, the team behind Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf, who specialise in children’s shows and often use them to tackle social themes.
This year’s Christmas production is a delight, an atmospheric, imaginative theatrical journey with enough attention to detail to entertain the grown-ups alongside plenty of comedy, scares, songs and audience participation for willing youngsters. It is a classic story, intelligently told, and as such is suitable for all ages without resorting to risqué gags for the adults or terrorising the audience (which, of course, certainly has its place at this time of year, but may not be everyone’s style).
Sydonie Paterson’s set and costume design was simple and rustic, and the woodchip-covered stage allowed for an impressive trick, enabling the players to manipulate the ground underneath their feet. This worked especially well when Little Red became tempted to stray off the path.
Unity’s go-to musical director Patrick Dineen once again provided a delightful and understated score and original songs.
Harvey Robinson projected especially well as Wolf, while Luca Rutherford captured a perfect mix of vulnerability and independence as Little Red. A scene where, lost in the forest, she encountered a host of other fairy tale characters was an inspired touch.
The show was a nice length, especially for younger audiences – with a 45 minute first act and half-hour second half, it does not risk outstaying its welcome. That second act, though, was darker and possibly a bit scary for very small children, but ultimately the charm of the ensemble won the day.
Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf runs at the Unity until Saturday, January 7.