After a triumphant run in 2015, the Baddies are back at the Unicorn, the story-time villains are centre stage as the morals of bed time classics are brought to trial in this up-beat original musical for all the family.
Baddies! begins in the cosy cottage belonging to Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma, the Big Bag Wolf (Nigel Barrett) is snuffling and grunting away in his ill-gotten nightgown preparing to gobble up the unexpecting Red (Kathy Rose O’Brian). But moments into the show the story is interrupted, the Wolf is arrested, Red is left in an unfinished tale, and the rustic cottage is flown away to make room for a stark, dank jail cell where the new story unfolds. James Buttons utilitarian re-design appears simple, though has several tricks up its sleeve to delight little ones and grownups alike.
The baddies have been locked away because, in this era of trophies for participation and trigger warnings, there is no longer a place in children’s stories for ugly wicked step-sisters, pillaging hook-handed pirates, granny-gobbling wolves or er, that chap that spins straw into gold. The Baddies must re-brand, with the help of a few goodies, or face being written out of stories entirely. Though something doesn’t seem quite right with this insipid new narrative.
In the adept hands of the Unicorn’s Artistic Director Puni Morell and writer Nancy Harris, Baddies shrewdly calls into question the trite traditional narratives of good conquering evil, where ‘good’ is shorthand for docile women in pretty dresses and 2 dimensional male heroes, usually with blonde hair. O’Brian’s scheming Cinderella is undone by her vanity, it’s her penchant for wanting to makeover others into her identikit ideals of perfection that makes her so unpleasant. Not to mention her appearance in a pink skirt-suit is all Elle Woods without the second act self-realisation. Meanwhile Christian Roe’s city-slicker styled Peter Pan is a scene stealer, his portrayal of a petulant man-child refusing to grow up, whilst slathering every word in charm and smarm is spot on. And Roe can throw a tantrum better than most terrible-two year olds.
Barrett plays a superb twist on the anti-hero, a Big Bad Wolf who may not mind blowing down the houses of three little pigs, but does wonder why Little Red Riding Hood couldn’t save herself? He delivers a warmth and earnest to the character who frankly isn’t really a monster, he just plays one in the stories. The Ugly Sisters May and Fay (Ngo Ngofa and Karis Jack respectively) push back against their defining characteristic being beauty (or lack thereof), instead marketing themselves as sick fashion designers with a head for business, in-line with the proclamation ‘Girls are just as smart as boys yknow!’ Harris’ characters are complex, problematic and still likeable, and Morrell’s direction brings them to life without cynicism. Oh, and this fairy tale passes the Bechdel test, in case you were wondering.
Marc Teitler and Sam Sommerfield’s musical numbers are great fun, as they leap stylistically between formats, from a Disney-esque turn by Cinders to a crooning lament from the Wolf. The polka, folk-punk infused ‘Bad guys are out of business’ is a clap-along highlight; whilst the Ugly Sisters’ expositionary ballad about being judged on appearance hits one of the show’s most pertinent emotional and moral raw points.
Most enjoyably, the moral never feels heavy handed, in fact it takes a bit of thought to piece together the ultimate standpoint. Though it could go over the head of some of the youngest members of the audience whose grownups may need to connect the final dots, this is a credit to the Unicorn and their commitment to making theatre that caters to young audiences as intelligent and intuitive young people.
Overall the show is light on peril, heavy on philosophy, but the kids seemed to love it, cheering and giggling throughout, and the grownups seemed pretty pleased too. A fab alternative to a panto, with feminist themes woven so comfortably into the stories it makes you wonder why we’d settle for the same old happily ever after again.
Nancy Harris - Book and Lyrics
Marc Teitler - Music and Lyrics
Purni Morell – Director
James Button – Designer
Ngo Ngofa – Choreography
Sam Sommerfeld - Musical Director
David W Kidd – Lighting
Ed Clarke – Sound
Paddy Molloy – Projection
Nigel Barrett – The Big Badwolf
Christian Roe - Peter Pan
David McKay - Rumplestiltskin
Ngo Ngofa - Ugly Sister May
Karis Jack - Ugly Sister Fay
Cornell S John - Captain Hook
Kathy Rose O’Brien - Cinderella
Jon Trenchard - Guard
Jack Benjamin - Guard
(c) 2016 Rachael Smith