REVIEW: Maanika and the Wolf (Polka Theatre pop-up, Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre)

Ahead of the long-awaited reopening of their building, children’s theatre specialists Polka Theatre have set up a pop-up space in Wimbledon’s Centre Court Shopping Centre. The venue is home to Maanika and the Wolf, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood aimed at ages 3 to 6. Mummy and Quaver took a trip across to South West London to check it out this weekend.

Created and directed by Polka’s Artistic Director, Peter Glanville, Maanika and the Wolf sees Indian grandmother, Maanika (Ruchika Jain) reminiscing about her past as she wrestles with a decision over whether to accept an offer to sell her childhood home to the amusingly named Mr Lupinosa who wants to use the land for a high speed railway. As she delves into her Indian dressing-up box, Maanika uses the treasures she finds inside to re-enact the classic story, with a distinctly Indian flavour.

Ruchika Jain in Maanika and the Wolf. Photo credit: Ali Wright

Glanville’s aim is to blend together the past and present, real and imagined, and there are some very nice ideas in this show which make it far from an ordinary telling of Little Red Riding Hood. Not only is the story set on the banks of the Ganges, but Maanika’s attempts at telling it are punctuated by very modern interruptions including a delivery driver at the door, phone calls from Mr Lupinosa and Zoom calls from her granddaughter, Ruby.

Although Jain is a captivating storyteller, the show doesn’t always quite succeed in simultaneously engaging children at both ends of the recommended age range. The switching between the real and imagined elements results in some parts feeling quite slow while the conclusion of the Red Riding Hood story is rather rushed. (Mummy is not entirely sure how Little Red Riding Hood defeated the wolf but it seems that in this girl power version, the woodcutter has been given the chop!) We would suggest that it is slightly better suited to those towards the top of the recommended age range, especially as Covid rules mean that children are discouraged from getting too close to Sophia Lovell Smith’s beautifully designed set (which is tantalisingly close to the carpet on which they are seated and really rather tempting, with all its toys and evocative fabrics).

Ruchika Jain in Maanika and the Wolf. Photo credit: Ali Wright

With its unusual location and very different take on the classic tale, it will be interesting to see if Maanika and the Wolf attracts new audiences to Polka Theatre. For those who happen across the venue during an afternoon of shopping, we can guarantee that between the storyline, Sophia Lovell Smith’s set design and Arun Ghosh’s soundtrack they will quickly forget that they are sitting in what once was River Island in the middle of Wimbledon Shopping Centre!

Maanika and the Wolf plays at Polka Theatre’s pop-up venue in Wimbledon Centre Court Shopping Centre from 29 July to 29 August 2021. We received complimentary press tickets to the 2.15 pm performance on Saturday 7 August.