It is not often that, upon walking into a theatre, you are asked to reveal your heart’s desire. In transforming Angela Carter’s sensual reimagining of the Little Red Riding Hood story for the stage, theatre company 3Bugs have imposed a mild, kitsch element of audience interaction on the tale, demanding that their spectators exercise their creativity. Walking into the small space, we are handed pieces of card and directed to glitter glue and pipe cleaners, cultivating an atmosphere of primary school arts and crafts that prompts stifled giggles.
Unfortunately, 3Bugs’ approach to encouraging engagement with their audience continues in this well-meaning but vaguely embarrassing vein. Their appealing craft gimmick has the potential to interrogate the act of creativity, but instead it sits as an awkward periphery appendage, a superfluous if amusing excuse to regress into childhood. The prowling of the wolf figure through the audience, meanwhile, is merely a reductive distraction, an incongruous pantomime technique transposed onto a piece that is attempting to be taken seriously.
There is a central tension, whether intentional or not, behind these childish aesthetics and the darker, more adult themes of Carter’s story. Rewriting the red-cloaked heroine as a young fairytale feminist and the wolf as a shape-shifting sexual predator, Carter’s creation is decidedly not for kids. In its staging, 3Bugs’ interpretation acknowledges the clash between childish origin and sinister revision, but this device – if indeed it is a device by design – stumbles over its own clumsiness.
Occasional glimpses of what the company are trying to achieve peek through, as when the cast don disturbing, porcelain-like masks to enact old tales or when wolf and girl become locked in a dangerous, physical dance. Despite the flaws, there are some potentially exciting influences being played with and an awareness of the visual impact of what is being made. Like the glitter-studded miniature artworks that we clutch in our hands as we leave, however, 3Bugs’ show is messily charming but ultimately juvenile.
** – 2/5 stars
The Company of Wolves plays at C Venues until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. More information can be found here.