Writer: Ben Crocker
Director: Chris Lawson
Musical Director: Matt Marks
Choreographer: Natasha Harrison
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
CAST’s pantomime proceeds along essentially traditional lines, but has one unique feature and one that is certainly slightly unusual. For the third year running, CAST presents the only fully British Sign Language interpreted pantomime, with Naomi Gray, a colourful and spirited presence on the fringe of every scene as Birdie, cleverly combining signing with participation in the action.
Also this is a two-for-the-price-of-one panto, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood with Ben Crocker’s script neatly combining the two. The main story-line is of Robin winning the archery contest at Nottingham Castle, being imprisoned by the Sheriff, escaping and marrying Maid Marion, but intertwined with this, is the story of the Sheriff attempting to kill off the “babes” for their inheritance. Appropriately enough, when he sets about their murder, they lead him further into the forest until he falls into the grip of Robin Hood.
For all the talent on display, the first half is a little stiff. Surprisingly, for such an experienced panto writer, Crocker often allows the action to plod along with too much exposition and narrative and not enough silliness and interaction with the audience. There are good things, of course. Robert Took’s Dame, Winnie Widebottom, nanny-cum-schoolteacher, has a nice classroom scene with assorted pretend pupils and makes an entertaining revolving target for the archery contest, but (s)he has too little chance to establish an informal rapport with the audience. Reece Richardson’s Robin Hood is rather stolid and Rachael Henley’s feisty Maid Marion underused.
The second half sees a transformation and the youngsters in the audience, who clearly find the first half pleasant and amusing, are suddenly much more involved and in a state of high excitement by the final curtain. Much of this has to do with the uproarious scene when the audience helps Robin to break into the tower to rescue Marion by pelting the guards with “stones”– some cannier kids keep back the odd “stone” to cause mayhem later. There’s also a “slop scene” that is unusually well integrated into the plot, Robin’s fellow-outlaws Little Joan (Beth Lilly) and Friar Tuck (James Hedley) appearing as washer-women to effect his escape.
However, it’s not just the excellent set-pieces. The whole cast seems more relaxed after the interval, the interplay with the audience creates a momentum that is often lacking in the first half. The finale, packed with reprises and containing a cute feature for the Junior Ensemble, is a suitable climax to what has become a very jolly evening.
Once the pace picks up, Chris Lawson’s direction keeps up the momentum, with Ian Crowe an urbane villain as the Sheriff and Sam Glen his hapless henchman Dennis. Reece Richardson’s rugger captain of a Robin Hood hits his stride in the second half and Rachael Henley makes the most of the fight scenes, particularly well directed by Kaitlin Howard. Two youngsters from the Junior Ensemble carry off the parts of the “babes”, Tommy and Tilly, with great assurance.
Runs until 31 December, 2018 | Image: Contributed