Wolf Witch Giant Fairy in the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House is a tartan plaid in song and movement, with strands woven from several children’s traditional stories. Among the characters, a big bad wolf, eyeing up tasty humans. And the sinister witch Baba Yaga from Slavic folklore. The fee-fi-fo giant at the top of Jack’s beanstalk. The earthbound spirit who, despite having lost magical attributes – here, a fairy’s wings – retains some otherworldly powers.
Meeting them all is Little Red (wearing her riding hood), who canters through her adventures in a wood by moonlight with the help of eight multi-talented actors and instrumentalists, and a narrator of Cat in the Hat cheeriness in the very entertaining form of Peter Brathwaite.
Tom Penn as Wolf. Photo: Helen Murray
In just over an hour, Little Red dodges the wolf, flees from the witch, sells a village’s sole cow for beans, sprouts them with her tears, scrambles up to defeat the giant in his lair, and resumes her woodland visit to grandmother, where the wolf is waiting in Grandmother’s clothes ….
With much ground to cover, the action moves at top speed, possibly too fast for some younger members of the audience, and is shot through with jokes for adults, often at the expense of theatrical conventions. ‘Play my song,’ snarls the Wolf. ‘What’s that? Milk it with a song, you say?’ offers the witch’s familiar, Cat. The Golden Goose is similarly knowing: ‘I hope she’ll be all right. That’s a pretty ominous chord…’
The music that the characters treat with distain is, in reality, sung and played with verve and expertise as the cast hurtle from instrument to instrument. A rattling East European energy propels the score along, musical director Dominic Conway on stage with a series of stringed instruments and playing the sad head villager.
Jon Whitten as Grandmother/Fairy. Photo: Helen Murray
The company led by Conway, Clare Beresford who plays Little Red, and Alexander Scott (Cat) have devised the work over several months, and it teems with ideas. Samuel Wyer’s set and costume designs are unconventional and witty.
Some in these grey times may fancy more glamour and less grunge – opening night was on the eve of the Strictly final, with audience figures artists can only sigh at. Some may prefer a show with a tune to sing on the way home. But my main disappointment was that overcoming evil requires residual fairy talents, and not just good old-fashioned virtues of the Cinderella school.
Nevertheless this is a good-hearted piece of escapism and today’s culture-starved children deserve every scrap of live musical theatre parents can track down.
Wolf Witch Giant Fairy is sung in English with English subtitles. It is a Royal Opera and Little Bulb production in association with Farnham Maltings. Performances on 19 and 29 December are interpreted into British Sign Language. There is an Audio Described Performances with a Touch Tour on 2 Jan
|What||Wolf Witch Giant Fairy, Royal Opera House review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Embankment (underground)|
10 Dec 21 – 03 Jan 22, 14 relaxed performances, times vary, no interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|