Theatre review: Middle Child panto – Red Riding Hood

Our theatre reviewer, Sam Sims, shares his thoughts on Red Riding Hood, Middle Child’s panto at Social on Humber Street.

Red Riding Hood – Photo by Tom Arran for Middle Child

Christmas is often a chaotic blur. There’s the lead up – last-minute queueing in Primark for the gift little Jimmy’s been demanding all year and an impulsive buy in The Perfume Shop for Auntie Janet which might just make her smell like a donkey. And there’s the fateful day itself – the bloody fire alarm keeps going off while you’re trying to cook and mum yet again takes Monopoly too far, and this time traumatises little Cathy for life. Fancy adding a bit more chaos to your festivities? Then change out of your pyjamas and get to Middle Child’s annual Christmas panto. 

Middle Child have been brightly decking Hull with their pantos since 2011 and since 2021, residents have been able to choose which show the company puts on the following year. After successful runs of Rapunz’ull and Robin Hood: Prince of Thorngumbald, this year sees Middle Child inject their supremely unique style into the classic tale of Red Riding Hood.

Middle Child have always put Hull at the very centre of everything they do and it’s always such a pleasure to see. They get what the city is about and how the residents wish to see themselves represented. Red Riding Hood is unsurprisingly no exception. The show is down-to-earth, it’s about being the underdog, putting it to the man. It knows that the people of Hull aren’t impressed by frivolity and pretence and that ultimately, they’ll see through bullshit spouted by a Tory MP.

As the show begins, we’re welcomed into Granny Patti Breadcake’s (played by Marc Graham) independent bakery, Buns of Steel, which she runs with her granddaughter, Red Riding Hood (Sarah Penney). Unfortunately the business is being threatened by Baroness Scrimp (Alice Beaumont) who wishes to monopolise the city, making it yet another faceless part of her evil empire. Bah humbug. As she makes a delivery, large bag labelled ‘Umber Eats’ on the back, Red meets Jack Lumber (Josie Morley) and a romantic connection is immediately apparent. Does one of them turning into a werewolf at midnight pose a problem, however?

The set, as is always the case with a Middle Child panto, is simple, but Natalie Young has done a good job at making sure it plays, as you’d expect, an integral part in relaying the story to the audience. Standouts are the candy-coloured bakery and TV screens that feed the residents of Hull right-wing propaganda. 

Young and Katie Lee Price’s costumes are also great and you can tell just how much they help the cast get into character. Standouts here are the Baroness’s ultra-conservative suit and wig that looks more like a toupee, Breadcake’s everything, and the moons – yes, each and every one of them.

Panto wouldn’t be panto without some contemporary pop culture thrown in – whether it’s set in Hull or not and what could be more ‘now’ than Barbie? No, we don’t get a great big feminist monologue but there are some delightful musical numbers: ‘Watch me Bake’ and ‘I’m Just Jack’. Not quite so contemporary but always a pleasure to hear is Adele’s ‘Make you Feel My Love’, given a very emotional and touching rendition here by Penney and Morley.

You can tell that Middle Child enjoys doing their pantos as much as audiences love watching them. Morley leaves the stage and becomes part of the band a couple of times during the show and as they do, their face lights up, smiling widely and encouraging the ‘team’ on. It’s nice to see and especially as it feels unique and special – you don’t get that with larger shows and companies. The cast are, for the most part, good but only excellent can be ascribed to Graham and Beaumont. Both are not only fantastic in their respective roles but are natural comedians and have such an ease about them. Lines don’t sound like lines with this pair – they clearly know their characters inside and out. 

It’s clear that Middle Child knows their audiences and have paid attention to what they respond to. Pattie Breadcake is a perfect example of this, as is Andy Ross’s Reluctant Stage Manager/ The Moon. These characters return again and again, year after year, and thank goodness because they’re a huge part in crafting the company’s panto brand.  
Red Riding Hood is ultimately a bit of a mess but that’s kind of the point. The show is frantic and often nonsensical which might not be to everybody’s taste (including mine, unfortunately) and the jokes could do with being less predictable and more fresh, but it’s a laugh and a good way to see the year out, putting two fingers up at the Tory government. What better gift is there than that?

[Sam Sims – Theatre reviewer]