The Weekly Play: Red Riding Hood (1973)

What big eyes you have, grandma

Armchair Theatre: Red Riding Hood

You can spend ages trying to work out the hidden meanings of fairy tales. Which Jungian archetypes do they reflect? Were they metaphors told by mothers to their children to explain the nature of patriarchy? Were they mere cautionary tales or did they have historical origins? And did Red Riding Hood really believe that wolf was her grandmother, just because it was wearing her clothes?

You can probably spend ages trying to work out what John Peacock’s Red Riding Hood means, too. A 1973 segment of ITV’s Armchair Theatre strand of plays, it sees Rita Tushingham playing a lonely librarian, struggling to deal with debt and her two bed-ridden relatives – her father and her grandmother. The red-clad Tushingham has little to live for, but one day the rather wolfish Keith Barron, who’s seen her down the library, decides he wants to get to know her. So he visits her grandmother, kills her with her own walking stick then waits for Tushingham to turn up.

After which, things get a little less easy to fathom when Tushingham agrees to spend a fortnight with him for a bit of spaghetti and sex, leaving her poor old dad by himself at home – despite her having more than an inkling of what Barron got up to before she turned up at grandma’s house in her red coat…

Does Red Riding Hood tame the wolf? I won’t spoil the ending for you, but metaphor mixes with reality, sub-text becomes text, and what’s real and what’s imaginary become hard to separate as the play progresses. Peacock, who also wrote the Hammer film Straight On ‘til Morning (which also starred Tushingham), enters similar territory to Dennis Potter’s Brimstone and Treacle here, but takes the plot in a completely different direction that’s all about Tushingham rather than Barron.

Red Riding Hood is this week’s play. I hope you enjoy it – if you like it, buy it on DVD to support the lovely people who made it.