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Red (Susan Elkin reviews)

Society: Polka Theatre (professional productions)

Venue: 240 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1SB



5 stars


All photos: Ali Wright

Yes, it really is one of the best shows of its type I have ever seen. That said, a word-free, three hander for children performed by a highly accomplished trio of deaf actors is a pretty unusual concept for a show so bravo Polka Theatre and director, Hannah Quigley, for staging something so gloriously original and imaginative.

A 45 minute promenade piece, it starts in a spectacular wood full of coloured umbrellas and twiggy trees where charismatic, rubber bodied Ciaran O’Brien as Father (he plays other roles too) is trying to sooth his tetchy baby. Then his woodcutter partner (Bea Webster – excellent) comes home and explains what’s going on outside. We are then led through two more magical spaces, one a swamp full of rubbish with a strong eco message reinforced by clever projection and the other an art nouveau-ish castle in a black box studio where the denouement takes place. Along the way we meet the very talented Zoe McWhinney as a Mystic Swamp Folk Person and, eventually, as the titular Red.

The play is very loosely inspired by Red Riding Hood so of course there are lupine references … and I choose that word with care, The wolf is visually evoked by powerful jaws, flapping ears and pattering feet as well as by O’Brien in a grey fur tippet. It is all very explicitly conveyed in British Sign Language and powerful mime, the physicality of which almost becomes ballet. The story telling is extraordinarily clear and, at the performance I saw, the children – most of whom were clearly used to hearing conventionally – seemed to process and respond to it effortlessly. In short Red is a mini masterpiece of inclusive theatricality and communication.

This was my first visit to Polka Theatre  since its £8m redevelopment. It reopened four weeks ago. The transformation is astonishing – spacious, modern, vibrant and very welcoming with its sparky new café and colourful carpets. And yet, there’s a lot of respect for its history built in to the redesign. I’m really looking forward to seeing a main house show there soon.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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