Pantomime in Dubai

Little Red Riding Hood panto is coming to the First Group Theatre


t’s a rather warm morning at Safa Primary School in Jumeirah, but the show must go on, explains actor Nick Ash (aka the woodcutter and the big bad wolf), who is part of Dubai’s latest theatrical innovation – a touring children’s pantomime. ‘They didn’t have a big enough hall to accommodate the sets, so we’re doing an outdoor performance this morning in the playground,’ he explains, as the stage director totters past us carrying a huge plywood tree.

On this particular morning, Nick is apprehensive. The wolf costume, he says, is particularly hot and heavy – even in the cold A/C. So wearing it in the heat for an hour will be challenging. ‘But it’s all part of the fun – and it keeps us on our toes,’ he laughs, adding that he’s planning on drinking loads of water.

Nick, who formerly played the Gruffalo in the acclaimed West End show, is clearly enjoying his Dubai jaunt, along with the rest of the cast of four professional British actors, who have been brought together by the play’s director, Laurie Doorman.

Samantha Jenkinson, who is all sparkled up and rearing to go, plays the woodland fairy. She explains that even though touring the school circuit is a new thing for Dubai, it’s something they as actors are all used to – and what they enjoy. ‘The really nice thing about it is that we get to entertain the children in their own environment. As a result, they feel more relaxed and secure, and they are able to concentrate on the show much better. It’s also much easier for the school, because they don’t have to organize buses to take the children to and from the theatre. We’ve had a fantastic response, even from the Arabic schools where the children haven’t been exposed to British pantomime at all. Yet they all absolutely loved it.’

The hour-long performance is a pantomime version of the traditional tale, which, we are informed, has been toned down significantly. ‘The original Red Riding Hood story is extremely dark – and pretty frightening for children.’ explains Samantha. ‘We’ve made a lot of modifications – there is no killing of the wolf, for example. Instead, he is turned good by me (the fairy), and Granny doesn’t get eaten – because apart from being gruesome, it would be pretty difficult to re-enact that on stage! She hides in the wardrobe instead.’

Rania Ashur, the show’s promoter, is the innovator behind the entire production. A Dubai-based mum-of-three, who runs Art For All, she has already brought 20 block-busting children’s shows to the UAE, including Peter Rabbit, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Horrid Henry, and this December, we can also thank her for Dubai’s debut of The Nutcracker.

She says: ‘As a mum, I know how important it is to expose your children to the joys of performance art and the theatre. I do feel very strongly that all kids should be able to experience it, rather than just the privileged few whose parents can afford to take them. This show has taken me two years to put together, and it’s been extremely logistically challenging. Every time we do the show, it’s in a different venue, so all the sets, lighting and stage directions have to be altered to suit the area. But it’s worth it! Because it’s much more reasonably priced, so many more children can see it. We have deliberately kept the costs to a minimum (Dhs55 per child) for this precise reason.’

Little Red Riding Hood is playing in schools until mid-December. Currently, almost all of the 80 performances taking place have been pre-booked, so get your teachers on the case soon to avoid disappointment!
The show is open to the public at the First Group Theatre at The Madinat, from November 24-26. For more information call 04 366 6546.

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