New Wolsey’s Red Riding Hood offers a rock’n’roll treat in panto season
- Credit: Archant
The New Wolsey’s rock’n’roll panto has become a Christmas institution over the past 16 years. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to writer-director Peter Rowe about the process of blending madcap humour with some classic songs
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure to be in for a big surprise. The wood-cutter is wielding a different sort of axe, namely a beautiful blue electric guitar, rather than a large chopper designed for bringing down a tree. Yes, it’s panto-season and the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich is unveiling its latest rock’n’roll panto Red Riding Hood.
It’s a newly written addition to the New Wolsey stable of high energy shows which combine the laughs and antics of a traditional pantomime with the musical atmosphere of a top flight tribute band.
There is something special about seeing Red Riding Hood, the evil queen, the woodcutter and even the wolf playing guitar and drums, delivering stunning versions of iconic songs drawn from 50 years of chart toppers.
Among the songs populating this year’s show are: Needle In A Haystack, Don’t Stop Believing, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Heatwave, Dancing In The Dark and Rolling In The Deep and the performers are largely familiar faces like Rob Falconer, who plays the villainous Sir Jasper, who is back for his third panto, Lucy Wells is Red Riding Hood and is in her fourth year at the theatre, Daniel Carter-Hope is returning for his fifth rock’n’roll panto while Adam Langstaff is returning for his fourth panto and has been at the theatre in two other shows this year Oxy and the Morons and Tommy.
There are new faces Lana Walker as Little Miss Moffet and Goldilocks, Isobel Bates as Bo Peep and Simon Nock makes his New Wolsey debut as The Dame.
Written and directed by Peter Rowe, the New Wolsey’s artistic director, the show finds Red Riding Hood running the best bakery in Soggy-Bottom-In-The-Marsh but when the village party is scattered by the return of the legendary lone Wolf, the wicked Sir Jasper de Ville demands more rent to pay for the added security. Meanwhile, a handsome woodcutter has arrived in town, who isn’t all he seems to be…
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So, is getting more difficult to write new shows? How easy is it to vary the formula, to get a different feel?
“I don’t think this show was any harder to write than the others. They all have slightly different flavour to them, so they have their own identity. This one feels a little faster, more farcical than some of the others.
“The tricky thing for me was how to flesh out a story which all takes place in a little cottage in the woods. So we have invented a village life and Red Riding Hood moves between the two. She still takes the basket of goodies to granny in her cottage in the woods and Grandma makes a similar journey to help out at the bakery, so there’s movement in the storyline which helps keeps things interesting.”
I take it The Dame is Grandma?
“Oh yes, Grandma’s the Dame and we have a squire who is the baddie. Also, we have the wolf who is a baddie and we have a half wolf mask which we have had in rehearsal and that’s looking good. It’s a half mask so the actor can use his mouth and sing songs holding a microphone.
The songs make up a major part of the show. Most musicals have specially written lyrics to help advance the story, you are working with well known songs. How hard is it to find the right song for the right moment in the storyline?
“For us the story is really important and if you have a powerful love ballad then you have to earn the right to sing it. The relationship has to matter, you have to care about the characters otherwise the song doesn’t work and you cheapen a classic song and none of us wants to do that. Alot of the work we do before rehearsals get under way is talking about the characters and how the story works and how everything comes together.
“Then in contrast to that you can safely send everything up and have the wolf singing a heavy metal song. It’s about picking your moment and keeping the song right for the character. That’s the great thing with the form of the rock’n’roll panto, that it can cope with anything but if the backbone of the story isn’t there then the whole thing falls apart.
“For me, the fun of writing the panto is getting to choose the right classic song for that moment in the show. Quite a few of them come to me when I am mapping out the story. It’s amazing but once you have a story in your head, the songs just present themselves to you. It only occasionally that you have to go looking for that perfect song.”
Red Riding Hood, The New Wolsey, Rock’n’Roll Panto, is running from tomorrow until Saturday January 27 2018.