REVIEW: The Boy Who Cried Wolf, York Theatre Royal Studio

The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Tutti Frutti/York Theatre Royal, at York Theatre Royal Studio, September 26 to October 12

RAIN, rain, rain, the River Ouse is in flood, but the weather is even worse at York Theatre Royal, where snow is falling and Tutti Frutti’s actors are covered from head to toe in wool.

Five years ago to the autumnal month, Leeds company Tutti Frutti first staged York playwright Mike Kenny’s re-spinning of Aesop’s wintery old yarn in new patterns and shades, as favoured by the contestants in the annual jumper-knitting competition that opens and closes this one-act show for three year olds and upwards.

Designer Hannah Sibai has cloaked the Studio stage in white, from the floor to the tree branches, set in place in upturned spools and wrapped in wool; from the lit-up miniature village houses at the front to the snow-peaked mountains that form the backdrop.

Colour comes from the suffusion of old-fashioned/Scandi-noir knitted clothing, scarves and hats worn by actor-musicians Alex Wingfield, Florence Russell and Guido Garcia Lueches, who add yet more woolly headgear when playing grouchy, unruly, hip-hop dancing sheep.

The play’s title carries a moralising tone, but Kenny, himself a father, prefers to encourage children to take on responsibility, rather than wave a scalding finger in their direction, in a story set over three winters in a bleak sheep-farming community.

Grandad (Garcia Lueches) now lacks the energy and spryness to guard the family’s flock from the predatory wolves high up in the mountains, handing over the duty to his grandson Silas (Wingfield), a very reluctant “bother of a boy”. “Everywhere, sheep, just sheep,” he bemoans. Not yet ten years old, he is far from thrilled by the honour of keeping his village safe as he quickly tires of the sheep’s irritating stubborn streak and decides to end his solitary sanctuary by lying that a wolf is in his midst. He will do so again the next winter, but each time his Mum (Russell) and Grandad caution him that “no-one trusts a liar, even when they’re telling the truth”. Only this way will he learn that he cannot pull the wool over their eyes.

Significantly, however, Kenny makes a point of Silas insisting he is not a “bad boy but occasionally does bad things”. Just give him time to grow up, embrace his responsibilities and even find his inner wolf.

Director Wendy Harris plays to Kenny’s storytelling strengths, bolstered by Dom Sales’s deeply daft folk songs, played on mandolin, guitar, flute, saxophone and cor anglais, in an enchanting, amusing and ever so slightly scary show when Joanne Bernard’s movement direction and the suitably named Mike Redley’s red lighting transform the cast into the prowling, sometimes howling wolves.

Kenny’s curmudgeonly but highly humorous sheep, with their bleating dialogue and wool-is-cool teenage demeanour, go down particularly well, providing the most fun for both the audience and the cast, who knit together so successfully they deserve to win the village jumper comp.

Cheeky of face, funny of expression, Wingfield captures the easily bored yet adventure-craving essence of Silas; ably backed up by Garcia Lueches’s wise, kindly Grandad and Russell’s often exasperated, always-knitting Mum.

Sheep fans, young mums and their lambs should escape the rain, embrace the snow and flock to this winter winner.

Charles Hutchinson

Review copyright of The Press, York