Joan Littlewood's old venue, with its red Victorian interior and raucous local audience, is perfect for panto: and there's nowhere cosier to be at this time of year than inside the belly of the wolf, as Little Red and her forest friends soon discover.
Some versions of this story have the little girl eaten and that's it. The Brothers Grimm had her rescued by the woodman, and so she is at Stratford, even though Ben the Woodcutter (a likeable Marcus Ellard) only has a little chopper.
The script by Trish Cooke has all the right ingredients, with jaunty, clap-along music by Robert Hyman. The forest is a dark and dangerous place, and not just because the woodland trails are being obliterated by the town planners. It's no accident that the local mayor is doubled by Michael Bertenshaw with a long-haired Lupinus, a lascivious old rocker resembling a cross between Robert Plant and Rick Parfitt.
Omar Okai's production has pleasant painted front-cloths (designed by Emma Wee), clever puppetry, and a heavy emphasis on rap and Caribbean rhythms.
Musical director Sean Green leads a trio in the pit. Some of the sound is a bit hard-edged, but the singing is tremendous, notably from Derek Elroy as the flirtatious old Grannie in a succession of super frocks.
The panto template allows for maximum digression and invention. Chloe Allen's Little Red Riding Hood is hampered by a loudmouth sister, Big Blue Bossy Boots (Ayesha Antoine), as well as a fun-loving Mum (Sharona Sassoon) with an eye on the main chance, and the woodman.
Their lingo and backchat is based in the East End argot of aggressive cheekiness, plus attitude, and this main-lines into the mood and manners of the young kids in the audience, who react with the delight and surprise of recognition. And all inhibition is obliterated by the time we get to the song sheet.
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