After the high-priced saccharine vapidity of ELF , it felt like time to check out something both classier, and more affordable. Always perilous for the lone critic is a primary-schools matinee, but I have forgiven this dedicated children’s theatre for the time I emerged with bubblegum in my hair from an enthusiastic blower in the row behind. I recommend the nice solo bench at the back by the door. Defensible space…

Anyway, it was well worth it. if only for the unusual spectacle of 250 young children enthusiastically booing a melodious and comely Peter Pan (and Cinderella) and rooting for the Big Bad Wolf and Cap’n Hook. Nancy Harris and Mark Teitler’s new musical opens with Red Riding Hood arriving chez Granny-wolf – Dean Nolan a splendid hairy-biker figure with a majestic beard and gut. Just as he is about to eat her, a swat team from the Bedtime Stories Authority arrests him, to the indignation of both (“It’s part of the story!” protests Red Riding Hood, entirely complicit.) In prison, on bleak bunks poor Wolfie finds the Ugly Sisters (Clare Sundin and Kelly Agbowu in garish urban bad-girl kit) . There’s a suave gangsta Hook in two-tone shoes, (Miles Yekkini) and the nerdy, gnomelike ginger Rumplestiltskin (DAvid McKay) who the others bully at first, for being good at mental arithmetic. “What did you think we were? snarls Hook at the audience “Care Bears?”. They all get their arias – the Ugly sisters beautifully bemoaning how they get judged on their looks, but then refusing pity in favour of feminist fierceness.

But the five baddies are united when it turns out that their real captors are a smooth-suited Peter Pan, selling his system for eternal youth (Christian Roe every inch a PR millionaire) and a wonderfully princessy Cinderella, KAthy Rose O”Brien as a sort of Zoella-ish selfie-queen in a ballgown, trilling her song “If only the uglies were pretty..” and chucking around sparkly cushions , pink teddies and air-freshener.

Turns out this pair, who even have a Powerpoint presentation, want to rebrand the baddies, turn Wolf into a rescue-dog and Hook into a cloakroom assistant, and promote role-model characters like the cheekily named “Fluffalo…a bestseller with a positive message loved by parents and teachers”.

It’s snappy, sassy, and knowing: the children all seemed to get the interwoven fairytale and Peter Pan references with no trouble. It lightly carries its themes of bullying, individuality, hypocrisy, the emptiness of “boys who are best at everything and girls everyone loves”, and the need for stories. “You need bad guys in a good story..without the sinner there’s no saint, without the darkness there’s no light”. There are some jolly songs, and director Purni Morell gives us sufficient coups de theatre to keep everyone happy – a flash-bang, an offstage roaring monster, a rope swing, a cracking good roughhouse fight and the final contest (high-speed mental arithmetic won by Rumpelstiltskin) roused a deafening , screaming roar of complicity. Splendid.
box office 020 7645 0560 to 24 Dec

rating  four   4 Meece Rating


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