Monday, 11 March 2013

PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Little Red Riding Hood, Quercus Ensemble

Derry born Kim Vaughan and her talented musical collective enchant children and adults with a charming take on Roald Dahl's twisted version of the famous tale

As a lifelong Roald Dahl fan, I am extremely curious when joining the audience of various ages in Derry's Playhouse Theatre. How will Kim Vaughan and her Quercus Ensemble – playing as a full collective of more than ten musicians, for the first time – tackle his cult classic of a Revolting Rhyme, Little Red Riding Hood And The Wolf? More than that, will they do justice to the poem? Even the best of Dahl's audio and/or visual adaptations, filmic or otherwise, have failed to capture the true magic of the written word. But the endeavour in what we are about to see is more than commendable – it is memorable.

Everyone who knows Dahl's poem (read it here) will be aware of its tone: tongue planted firmly in cheek with dashes of horror and humour. Not to mention its rather unorthodox ending. Imagine to yourself, what if Little Red Riding Hood had both the nous and weaponry to fight back? And did? And, more than that, shamelessly paraded the fruit of her triumph over her would-be captor (in this case, a wolfskin jacket)? Well, Paul Patterson's musical adaptation has all these elements; and more, including an inebriate of a local grandma for extra laughs. You may argue that said laughs seem cheap, but their inclusion is essential in the midst of such a playful atmosphere.

Through strong orchestral compositions, skilled instrumentals and expressive acting – in short, impressive sight, sound and movement – the Ensemble bring the poem to life in front of a small group of excited children and contented adults. Played expertly by the Ensemble, Patterson's music – alternately boisterous, light-hearted, mysterious and gently horrifying when called for – accompanies actress Sara Dylan as she narrates and acts her way throughout the poem and beyond. The musicians, including Vaughan herself on cello, Ruth McGinley on piano and Sarah Murphy on flute, provide a strong background for an equally strong showcase of emoting and enunciation from Dylan. If the orchestra create the mood, Dylan truly brings the room alive. And how.

The Quentin Blake illustration projected on the wall behind the orchestra seems irrelevant as Dylan steals the show with her mouth, movement and mimicry. Playing every single one of the characters, she acts as if the whole thing is a good natured horror movie; that is to say, funny, lively and creepy without being too scary. After all, it is a show for kids. And Dylan's presence – effortlessly quirky without going over the top – reassuringly guides this show to the finish line in a consistently intriguing manner worthy of its inspiration. Dahl would be proud.

This version of Little Red Riding Hood was performed at the inaugural Humdinger! Children's Book Festival in Derry-Londonderry, and runs until Monday March 11. For more on the Quercus Ensemble, check out their official site.

(Photography by Gerry Temple.)