Adapting a world-renowned children’s tale for the stage is never an easy task, for one must find a judicious balance between the source text’s reliance on the reader’s imagination and the multisensorial viewpoints afforded by live action. For French playwright and director Joël Pommerat, this isn’t a new challenge. His new interpretation of his 2006 play for children ‘Le Petit Chaperon Rouge’ (Little Red Riding Hood) premiered for UK audiences at the Coronet Theatre on 17th November 2021. This was the first in a trilogy of fairy tales that have been adapted by Pommerat for the stage, having previously directed ‘Pinnochio’ in 2008 and ‘Cendrillon’ (Cindrella) in 2011. With minimal stage design and measured performances by the ensemble of performers, Pommerat’s treatment brings forth a darker, grim tone to the story and highlights some of its more salient themes of age, loneliness and fear.
The show opens with a man (Rodolphe Martin) who begins to tell us the story of little red riding hood, a young girl (Murielle Martinelli) who lives alone with her mother (Isabelle Rivoal) in the woods. Whereas in the version of the story many of us are familiar with, the young girl decides to pay her grandmother a visit and is confronted by a wolf who intends to eat both of them. However, in Pommerat’s version, we see a marked departure from this conventional storyline with a strong focus on the strained relationship between the little red riding hood and her mother in the first half. The mother’s neglect and indifference towards attending to her young daughter offer a subtle nod to changing contemporary lifestyles and parenting environments wherein children increasingly find themselves alone. Pommerat’s emphasis on the mother’s relationship with her own mother (ie the young girl’s grandmother) also makes us think about how these beliefs and attitudes are passed down generation by generation, highlighting the social alienation that continues to be nurtured across different age groups. In the second half of the show, we witness the wolf’s attempts to befriend little red riding hood and eventually trick her by impersonating the grandmother.
Whilst the story is delivered using spoken word and direct audience address in French (with English subtitles), it is backed by specific movements and images on stage. Rivoal’s precise embodiment of the mother evokes an eerie sense of discomfort whilst as the wolf, we get a sense of the deeply menacing nature of the animal. Martinelli’s movements as the young girl are precise and pointed, which allow us to contrast them with that of the old woman who is sluggish and lethargic in her skin. Martin’s delivery of the story is steady yet varied, keeping us engaged throughout whilst also finding the room to evoke laughter through some of the wordplay. In essence, Pommerat’s direction can be described in terms of precision and decisiveness that I have not seen before. These are also complemented by a tightly-knit light design by Eric Soyer (accompanied by light engineering by Cyril Cottet) whose deft use of blackouts and side lighting brings a sense of spontaneity and liveness to the action. Marguerite Bordat’s costume design helps us access both the whimsical magic world of the source material whilst also reminding us of the gritty reality of the world unfolding in front of us.
To summarize, Le Petit Chaperon Rouge is a wonderfully crafted piece of theatre that breathes fresh life into a beloved story tale. It offers us different perspectives on characters we thought we knew already and invites us to look a bit deeper.
You can watch Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood) at the Coronet Theatre W11 3LB till Sunday 21st November. Read more and book your tickets at the link: https://www.thecoronettheatre.com/whats-on/le-petit-chaperon-rouge/
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 18th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★