Aussie twist on classic fairytale

29 September 2021

Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood has been transplanted to an Australian bush setting for Awesome Festival, leaving Rosalind Appleby and junior reviewer Saskia Haluszkiewicz captivated.

Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood, Wind Quintet Plus & AWESOME Festival ·
Rechabite Hall, 28 September 2021 ·

The sound of the kaka (kookaburra) is part of Australia’s cultural DNA, just like the swooping of the koolbardi (magpie). So it makes sense for them to be embedded into Aussie performances of archetypal fairytales. Why wouldn’t the forest have a chatty djitty djitty (willy wagtail) as well as a big bad wolf?

Wind Quintet Plus have built Noongar culture seamlessly into the European fairytale Little Red Riding Hood for their season at Awesome Festival. It helps that the poem they are using is Roald Dahl’s quirky reinterpretation, with a colourful score by English composer Paul Patterson. 

We are on high alert even before the show begins, with musical bird calls from a variety of wind/percussion instruments surprising us from the dark balconies of the Rechabite Hall (a great space for a forest!). 

A short prologue introduces us to the musicians: flute, clarinet, oboe, horn, bassoon and two percussionists, who demonstrate the different musical themes we should listen for. Dressed in bird costumes, these are far more than backing musicians; at different times they are the wolf’s potential dinner, as well as hunters with (woodwind) rifles. 

“Things are not always as they seem…” the narrator (Melissa Priemus) warns us as she sets up camp in front of the band and describes the dangers of the forest. But don’t worry, it is easy to know when the wolf is coming: “Listen to the jerup (birds), they will tell you.”

Wendy Tait combines a fetching galah costume with musical duties on horn. Photo supplied

Priemus shows evidence of being a clever and creative actor, pitching her story well for children, with witty props including a shadow puppetry moment using a torch behind a canvas camping chair to depict the wolf gulping down Grandmamma. Of course, the kids expect it to happen – even the music unfolds with predictable melodrama – and no one seems perturbed. 

Priemus swaps smoothly between the three central characters although the American accents were unnecessary (isn’t this the Aussie version?) as the characters were so clearly defined: Grandmamma has hilarious beer can hair rollers and the hungry wolf is foolish and furry. Finally, we meet Red Riding Hood, who eats lemons, wears a red sleeping bag and is everything a superhero should be (no spoilers here). 

Underpinning it all, the musicians elucidate each dramatic moment in a lush arrangement for wind quintet and percussion by percussionist Paul Tanner. It’s part cabaret, part Halloween, part Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and it is fabulous.

Junior review by Saskia Haluszkiewicz, age 11 ·

Adapted from the verse of Roald Dahl, which is an interesting take on the classic story, this production sets Little Red Riding Hood in the Australian bush. This provides unique visual humour to the audience, and a relaxed, casual feel. With beer cans for Grandmamma’s hair curlers, clever shadow puppetry on the back of a chair and a red sleeping bag for Red’s hood, the inventive ideas draw the audience in. 

With Diane Riddell (flute), Stephanie Nicholls (oboe), Catherine Cahill (clarinet), Joanne Littlely (bassoon), Wendy Tait (horn), and percussionists Paul Tanner and Euphina Yap, the music is lively and descriptive, featuring the unique sounds of the bush and animals. At the beginning, the instruments and musicians are introduced one by one in a creative way so that children can recognise musical themes. 

Melissa Priemus gives an entertaining performance as the narrator and characters, and engages the young audience. She is also the designer of the beautiful costumes, including the musicians as native birds, and gives the audience a visual feast.

I think this production is a great way to introduce kids aged 5 to 8 to the world of music, while enjoying this colourful version of a classic story.

Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood continues until 2 October 2021

Pictured top: Melissa Priemus as Little Red Riding Hood is everything a superhero should be. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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