“Family Pantomime Adventure”
Wednesday, 17th December 2014 19.00
Written and directed by Tom Bright
Robin Hood- Ed Petrie
Sheriff of Nottingham – Patrick O’Kane
Friar Tuck- Tom Bright
Bill- Neil Smye
Ben – Dan Looney
Maid Marion – Alicia Woodhouse
Fairy Mary – Stephanie Walker
King Richard – David MacDonald
This isn’t the classic Robin Hood pantomime, which was always a mash-up of Robin Hood and Babes In The Wood. That interested me because in the decade of writing and producing an annual amateur panto, Robin Hood was one we did in 1975, and we also skipped the Babes In The Wood connection, necessarily as we had done Babes in The Wood as a freestanding panto a couple of years earlier. Our Robin Hood had not only a bigger speaking cast, but a bigger pit band … though not having a synth capable of reproducing an Irish fiddle section and massed trumpets, it didn’t sound as big. In the 1980s, our old scripts continued to be used, and I was pulled in to play the dame (which I had never done in the original productions). But the other men in the cast refused to shave their beards, and I was beardless and available and knew the script having written it.
First off, this production is aimed as it should be at the kids, and it really goes extremely light on the double entendres for adults. It also eschews the current pop star / pop music syndrome which has ruined so many pantomimes. Though everyone uses head mics. I’ve given up complaining about this. The feel is retro, though not as consciously twee retro as Salisbury’s child-centred pantomimes, nor as expensively staged and soap-star draped as the competition eight miles away in Bournemouth. It really harks back to late 50s panto, though it has a man as the male lead, not a “principal boy” (i.e. girl in tights and boots playing a boy) nor a real pantomime dame.
They get over the dame issue extremely cleverly, with writer / director Tom Bright playing Friar Tuck, but he has to cross dress and pretend to be a female teacher. Hence the dame role is rationalised for the little ones (who worry about it) and also there is potential for comic rapid switching between the two roles … Friar Tuck and Gwendolin (?) Windybottom. They exploited that well.
They use the prefabricated “slot-into-any-panto” sections, but who doesn’t? I have to say I’ve seen the skeleton frightening them off stage one at a time several times too often (Salisbury always does it too). The reason for re-using it was clear. It went down incredibly well with the kids who screamed and shouted with abandon. The slot in painters and decorators section is one I haven’t seen in years and it was a welcome change from that inevitable dame cooking scene. That was a hugely positive innovation. The slotted in long schoolroom scene is a very good idea and worked well, and I hadn’t seen it before, but I knew right away that you could slot it into any panto.
There’s also the classic casting. Bright and the assistant villains double act, Bill & Ben, are classis panto actors. Then Ed Petrie is the visiting TV star, and Patrick O’Kane is the (only) “real” actor as the villain. So inevitably the rest of the cast take the piss out of him being a real actor. And inevitably he really is in a different class to the rest of the cast. There’s a lot of corpsing and improvisation / stepping outside the role from Bright in the substitute-dame role. Quite right, I always did it too. There’s a lot of dance with the male chorus (David MacDonald, William Goold) both noticeably more obviously experienced than the others. Again. The dance numbers are well costumed and choreographed, especially the Toyland dance ending Act One and the Riverdance section squeezed or forced into Act Two.
The music was excellent and full for a three piece, and I heartily approved of starting with the Richard Greene TV serial “Robin Hood” as recorded by Dick James, and the theme was repeated. You’re Beautiful was a well-chosen and apposite pop song. Though I don’t like pop dominated pantos, I believe you should always have at least one reasonably current song and one that everyone recognizes too. OK, it’s ten years old but the James Blunt Youtube version has had FIFTY-SIX MILLION hits. When we did it in 1975, our current one was Dr Hook’s “The Millionaire” which was good for the Sheriff. Most of the songs in this sounded original and good pantomime stuff.
The kids loved it. The night we went had massive audience participation and interaction. It’s what panto is about.
Critically then … (should you criticize panto?) … I was fascinated by Tom Bright’s extremely retro gurning Blackpool 1959 performance. Yes, it worked a dream, but it is extremely Northern laddie. The plot was forced, but it’s a panto. I thought there were lost opportunities in plot line and character … back in 1975 we had a whole thing about forming the band of Merry Men and distinct Friar Tuck, Little John and Will Scarlet characters, though our Sheriff also had two comic sidekicks. We had a dame who was the landlady of the local pub. We had a principal boy (i.e. female) Robin.
My main beef is with dialogue. The Sheriff did the hackneyed “I’ve got the scrolls / Put some cream on it” interchange which didn’t work. It didn’t work too well for us in 1975, though our interchange was better (Have you got the scrolls? / No, I always walk like this), though Mickey O’Donoghue’s New Vic Company got a good laugh with it in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in the early 90s (at this very theatre too), and my grandson (age 9) said it also flopped when he had to deliver it in the school play (Treasure Island) in the summer. There were a lot of those. The whole bit about the horrors of being forced to watch Portsmouth FC play football died a death in Poole, though it would have worked very well in rival city Southampton. We have no interest either way in Portsmouth FC here in Poole, 60 miles away. My guess is that’s the standard localized bit … use Liverpool in Manchester, use Manchester United in Liverpool. Use Nottingham in Derby. Use Middlesborough in Newcastle. It didn’t translate to the Poole / Bournemouth area. It was simply puzzling and died. Incidentally, I would have replaced it with “AFC Bournemouth” to get a “Boo!” or groan response. Poole and Bournemouth are basically one town with two town halls and we support AFC Bournemouth in Poole, and probably half the audience live in Bournemouth, so it’s the “negative response” laugh. It works even better as this week, AFC Bournemouth were sitting at the top of the Championship table, so not feeling “sensitive.”
The costumes? Good on the dancers and women. Even our 9 year old remarked that “King Richard” earlier called “Richard the Lionheart” was totally wrong in mid-18th century breeches. It was a perplexingly bad choice. However, the classic was always a Crusader tabard with St George’s cross. Is that considered politically incorrect nowadays? It IS after all a Christmas pantomime, so those likely to bristle with rage at the sight of Saladin’s opponent are unlikely to be there. But there was no need for a cross anyway. You could have a knight in armour costume … I would simply have had a tabard with a Henry V style quartered royal standard (easy enough to rent), or just a tabard with a lion.
There were lots of references to LV Insurance who we suspect had taken 75% of the tickets for the particular show. The local topical references to Earl of Poole and to Sandbanks needed a little more attention, but I thought that true of repartee throughout. I don’t mind being able to complete or reply to pantomime lines, and I understand that familiarity is half the fun, BUT I think the script needs a thorough polish at dialogue level. It’s NOT a classic pantomime plot and for that I was grateful. But I could see so many more ideas related to the base Robin Hood legend.
The cast were great. They also waited as we came out and did photos with the kids. Our three (nearly four) year old granddaughter was thrilled, entranced. She got the magic. She talked about it all the way home in detail. She was thrilled to speak to the Fairy Godmother and Maid Marion in the lobby. All in all, Poole has got the balance right. Highly recommended if you’re with kids, though less so for the senior citizens parties who used to fill the glossier Bournemouth production. i.e. It’s a real panto.
The post-show encounter with the Fairy Godmother that makes you a pantomime fan (then a theatre fan) for life. Thank you to Stephanie Walker!