Cry Wolf
Kneehigh Theatre & The Baghdaddies
Oxford Playhouse, 06-08.10.03

Playing Oxford for just three days is the anarchic theatrical musical experience that is Kneehigh - travelling players currently touring with post-punk experimenters The Baghdaddies. The company swagger in, lugging props and set (it's well worth turning up early enough to catch them in the foyer) wearing ill-fitting suits, looking like they were just turfed out of their squat that morning. The band collapse onto a convenient sofa and start up (they barely stop playing throughout) and the actors start throwing up the scenery. Everything is improvised, messy, but it's a carefully constructed chaos, every stagger and interruption exactly where it needs to be; and that's just the first pleasant surprise. The next is that Cry Wolf is not one play, but two. The first is a fish story based on Charles Causley's poem Francesco de la Vega, a sad tale of family problems, a difficult little boy, and the sea, starring a shockingly expressive mannequin. With projections, shadow puppets and wonderful music, it's an audio-visual delight, but the real joy is the comedy and drama: Craig Johnson as a respect-my-authority priest, with the band in napkins as his chorus of goon-show nuns; a dizzying,
umbrella-shredding storm scene. For the second, Wolf, their dirty, flirty retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, Emma Rice swaps her apron for a fabulous furry wolf-coat and sings herself into a gloriously predatory, lascivious, top-hatted frenzy. Meanwhile Giles King (despite protestations) shines as grinning, giggling Red Riding Hood, complete with undersized cape and comedy underwear, skipping merrily through the forest menaced by wolves, Dutch woodcutters, inappropriate footwear, and Pete Hill's unnerving animations; and somehow, from innuendo, show tunes and slapdash stage magic, they build up an intensely rich narrative on the way to its bloody
conclusion, all the more startling given that there are only four actors on stage.

Cry Wolf is suitable for adults and brave children.

Jeremy Dennis, 07.10.03

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