Kate Mitchell invited The Mancunion to Robin Hood: The 80s Panto!, the play’s assistant director, and the talent behind The Spirit of Sherwood. After not having been to a pantomime for 10+ years I was nervous as to what to expect. I anticipated moments of cringing and awkward audience participation. Although my predictions reigned true I was surprised how much I enjoyed myself.
Originally pinned in theatre through five plays about ‘Joly Robyn’ – The story of Robin Hood origins back to the 13th century. Ever since the tale has stayed a beloved classic questioning whether the heroic protagonist was in fact folklore or real. The tale of Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood tells how Robin and his Merry Men try to outfox the villainous – Sheriff of Nottingham, who attempts to kidnap and kill the babes so he may steal their wealth and position in line to the throne.
Pantomimes are traditionally categorised by their participatory form and are typically created for children/families. The audience is encouraged to shout conventional phrases and sing along to the musical numbers. This rendition was clever to blend the nostalgic, treasured English story of Robin Hood with popular hits from the eighties. The mix worked well with the broad age range of the audience. Mums and dads were swaying, sometimes dancing, to the memorable tracks. While the children were captivated by the embellished characters asking for their help in telling this magical tale.
One feature this play showcased beautifully, which I rarely see in the plays I normally attend, is the talent of local children. The dancers making up Team Bow and Team Arrow were charming and gifted. The choreography was a weighty portion of the storytelling and the children memorised and executed every move beautifully. I think, particularly in the festive season, it’s lovely to see the happiness of children involved in or watching the legend of Robin Hood come to life. The belief in another world, and of magic, radiated from their energy.
The performance, in comparison with others my partner had seen, was very impressive. eight-freestyle displayed skill to achieve such a filled atmosphere, considering the small size of the audience which can easily kill the buzz. The vast amount of 80s tracks was unexpected and energising. Everything from ‘Im Walking on Sunshine’ to a progressively feminist take on ‘Holding Out for a Hero’.
Adult and child-themed comedic threads were perfectly balanced. The suggestive comments of Nursie played by Jonathan Mayor (Look Northwest with David Bellamy) had me in stitches. His previous performances have been noted by Sarah Millican: “Marvellously wicked.” and Rob Brydon: “Naughty, but nice!”, I must agree. She seductively teased not one but two members of the audience, significantly older males, who played along well with the flirtation. She even came out to hug them at the end. Her wit and compelling presence stole the show for me.
Fun and frolics brought by Gilbert the Goth (Connor Wyse) and Red Redmond (Alan A’Dale) (Live At The Apollo and RuPaul’s Drag Race), who also co-wrote the script with Sean Canning; I feel I must complement. There was never a dull moment while they occupied the stage. The actors delivered their hilarious and poorly coordinated characters with extremely credible energy and enthusiasm.