Big Bad Wolf
Review by Cicely Binford
Before I begin my third and final AWESOME Festival review for 2016, I must first emphasise how joyous it has been to see such marvelous work for children (and their adult companions) on display in our fair city, and express my regrets that I couldn’t devote my entire week to seeing the rest of what the festival has to offer. Well done to all involved for an experience that truly lives up to its name.
Wednesday night was the opening night of Windmill Theatre‘s delicious Big Bad Wolf at the State Theatre Centre of WA, written by Matthew Whittet and directed by Rosemary Myers. If you thought you knew what the Big Bad Wolf was all about, then you probably haven’t met Wolfy. Wolfy (Patrick Graham) may be Big, but he’s anything but Bad; he wants nothing more than to make some friends, but all his fellow woodland creatures see his big fangs and think he’s up to no good, so they run away before he ever gets the chance to show them what he’s really like.
One day he happens upon a tiny cottage with a plucky, competitive, short-statured girl named Heidi Hood (Emma J. Hawkins) inside. She’s all alone, too, and despite initial misgivings due to her town Alarmsville’s strict no-wolf policy, she can see that Wolfy is no threat. They become fast friends and have a jolly time together until it comes to the matter of a poetry-writing contest; Heidi wants very badly to win, but can’t write poems, and Wolfy is a master poet but can’t enter the contest. Feelings are hurt and their friendship dissolves nearly as quickly as it began. But not for long.
In this swift-moving production, narrator Ellen Steele lends the tale of Wolfy and Heidi a big hand, as she operates puppets, does voices from behind the scenes, and changes into kooky costumes along the way. She does a turn as Wolfy’s mother, and we see where Wolfy gets his rhyming proclivities from. Graham’s Wolfy is a big ol’ lovable softy, even if he is a little windy and his big teeth make him a little harder to understand sometimes. Hawkins’s Heidi is an absolute joy to behold as she dances and tumbles and radiates with excitement at the prospect of winning another trophy.
Kids are absolutely charmed by Wolfy and Heidi, and they can hardly contain themselves when the characters talk directly to them. Right from the start, they’re shouting out answers, laughing loudly, and pointing out when characters are hiding or hiding something, but the show doesn’t stay too long in pantomime territory. There’s so much more to Big Bad Wolf than silly slapstick.
The show’s all around charm extends to the darling set (Jonathon Oxlade) that includes a mini gingerbread-style two-storey house, made to perfectly fit Hawkins but to barely contain Graham. Inside we find a talking chair that sent me right back to my childhood and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The woods are made of pastel-stained plywood, and even comes with a giant talking tree that houses all of Wolfy’s belongings.
What’s most satisfying about this fractured fairy tale is its messages about inclusion, tolerance, self-worth and friendship. To say the show has an agenda is probably a bit too aggressive, but adults might find some very definite parallels to Alarmsville in our own world. We adults may very well need shows like Big Bad Wolf to remind us that we shouldn’t make assumptions about people based on appearance and inherited fears. But for kids, Big Bad Wolf is a good introduction to some lifelong lessons in being Big Good Humans.
Big Bad Wolf runs until tomorrow, October 8 at The State Theatre Centre’s Heath Ledger Theatre. For tickets to the show and more information on Windmill Theatre Company, visit the Windmill website here.