July 06, 2013

Wolf lights up the house with poetry


Big Bad Wolf
by Matthew Whittet
Windmill Theatre
Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
July 6. Duration 50 minutes, no interval
Tickets: $15 – $20. Family rate $ 75 (2 adults, 2 children)
Bookings BASS 131 246 or
Until July 13.

The Big Bad Wolf has quite a case to answer. Just ask the Three Little Pigs or, if you can find her, the grandmother of Little Red Riding Hood. However, according to Windmill Theatre’s latest production (written by Matthew Whittet, based on a concept by Kaye Weeks) Big Bad is the most misunderstood character in fairytale history. It is time to re-open the dossier and look again.

“Wolfy” is now a shy, toothy young fellow with a strong German accent and not a friend in the forest. His mother, Grand Wolfmaster, is perplexed at his dreamy ways and penchant for writing poetry – “turning”, as he likes to say, “lovely thinking into lovely words.” Then, everything changes in his lonely life when he meets Heidi Hood, distant relative of Red Riding, a fearless competitor with a black belt in wolfjitsu who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up.

Following on from the well-deserved success of last year’s hit play, School Dance,Windmill director, the excellent Rosemary Myers, is working again with Whittet and designer Jonathan Oxlade to create, this time for very young audiences (five years and upwards), a whimsical, gently persuasive tale of friendship and acceptance. Ever inventive, Oxlade’s set (warmly lit by Chris Petridis) is a carefully detailed doll-house chalet (home for Heidi, her trophies and her talking couch) located in a 3-D forest made of light brown plywood.

But what makes Big Bad Wolf such a delight are the performances. Kate Cheel is vivacious as the narrator and, as Wolfy and Heidi, the leads, Patrick Graham and Emma J Hawkins, are pitch perfect. With lacquered wolf ears, fangy teeth, nerdy horn-rimmed glasses, Pee Wee Herman bow tie and hoisted-up trousers, Graham is endearingly diffident and unfailingly good-natured. He snores and farts to the gurgling delight of the young audience while bringing an emotional precision and wit to his characterisation that carries the play’s gathering ambitions.

As Heidi, the talented Emma J Hawkins is more than a match. A short-statured actor and acrobat, she moves and capers brilliantly in tandem with her co-star, shrewdly capturing the satire of Heidi’s type-A competitiveness. And while there is visual comedy in her diminutive relation to the lumbering (and forbidden) bad wolf, Hawkins makes the story of their developing friendship genuinely affecting.

Windmill’s collaboration with Matthew Whittet continues to thrive, producing works which are zany – sometimes giddily so – but they are also open-hearted and unfailingly positive. This Big Bad Wolf doesn’t huff and puff and blow the house down; instead, he lights it up with lovely words.

Murray Bramwell

“Wolf lights up the house with poetry” The Australian, July 7, 2013, p.13.

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