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Sunday 16th December 2007
Christmas Theatre Review | LITTLE WOLF'S BOOK OF BADNESS | Hampstead Theatre

Production: Little Wolf's Book of Badness
Playwright: Adapted by Anthony Clark from the book by Ian Whybrow
Producer: Hampstead Theatre
Venue: Hampstead Theatre
Address: Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3EU
Box Office: +44 (0)20 7722 9301
Dates: 6 December 2007 - 5 January 2008
Opened: 11 December 2007
Buy Theatre Tickets from Ticketmaster
Reviewed by Joanna Bacon

Anthony Clark's jolly adaptation of Ian Whybrow's book serves up good cheer, simple politics and optimism for this year's Christmas show at Hampstead, with a lively and hard-working troupe of actors who make the most of his adaptation. 'Let us operate out of love and respect rather than ignorance and fear' is the basis for many a traditional seasonal message. 'Let us not make slippers out of wolves' skins to be in with a chance of the wolf's being nicer in return to the greedy, clever human monkey' enables the plot to be quite contemporary and present the audience with current issues as well as the eternal ones of who am I and where am I going. And the ongoing issue of what constitutes good or bad is wittily and well-presented in the wolf household, where a 'good' wolf has to be 'bad' if he or she is to survive. (In fact, this line of thought does not bear too much analysis but as most of the audience are not yet doing their PhD. in Philosophy but are on a school outing to see a play, it works perfectly well!)

The sexual politics are fairly unevolved, which I find is par for the course in most shows for children. Whether this 'matters' or not, I don't know. The opening image is Mummy Wolf doing all the baking while Father Wolf writes a letter to Uncle Big Bad. The rather hysterical woman at the bus stop turns out to be an animal rights activist who berates the wolf for wearing fur before being told by the speaking wolf that he is a wolf, at which point she becomes afraid and more hysterical. This sort of disjointed stuff bothers me, but in fairness it didn't bother the young audience at all. It is un-sort-outable and better just enjoyed! The thing about children is, they accept as read all sorts of events which are unrealistic, and question tiny points. They were quiet and attentive in the first half, which presumably means interested not bored. By the second half they were more vocal and the total hilarity that broke out as we approached the denouement, with Big Bad exploding after eating three tins of beans, was a joy to witness.

I do feel that the physicality of the wolves could have been better developed, and that generally the songs are too long and could have been edited considerably. This is not to say that some of Conor Linehan's score isn't beautiful or imaginative. In particular, Shadow Song is very moving a wonderfully poignant moment when Little Wolf is alone in the forest, unable to stay with his wicked uncle or to go home to his family. The performances are generally sincere and likeable. Grant Stimpson stands out in a marvellous double as Dad and Big Bad, and Darrell Brockis's Mr Twister and Christopher Staines's Scoutmaster are very sharp.

Joanna Bacon 2007

 
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