Music and Lyrics: Lionel Bart
Book: Julian Woolford
Director: Bryan Hodgson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
If you’ve been thinking what the world really needs is a Robin Hood musical, well you’re in luck because in 1965 Lionel Bart wrote one – that’s theLionel Bart, who gave the world the musical theatre force that is Oliver! The Union Theatre has found a copy of Twang!!in the attic and decided it was due a revival, but apart from its most famous tune Living Doll(a hit for Cliff Richard in the 1980s), this famous theatre flop has nothing to recommend it to new audiences.
Robin Hood is no longer the hero of his own legend, he’s lost his twang, so the Merry Men have to cover-up his mistakes lest the evil Prince John, Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham discover their arch rival is weakened. With the arrival of Maid Marian to Nottingham Castle, Robin has to rescue her from a disastrous marriage, while a new recruit to his band of outlaws finds himself in a musical for the first time.
Taking most of Bart’s original songs and with a new book by Julian Woolford, this ultra-camp production of Twang!!remains a pretty sorry affair. While it largely ticks-off every point on the Robin Hood folklore checklist to including most of the elements an audience will expect, including all the right characters, an archery contest and a climactic battle, plot largely gives way to a series of dance numbers and more innuendo than even a Carry Onfilm could manage.
For much of the story almost nothing happens, there’s no sense of character depth never mind development, its impossible to believe in or care about any of the relationships and even three panto villains seems like overkill. To distract the audience there are references to plenty of other musicals, some verging on subtle such as the line “Hello Dolly” while elsewhere director Bryan Hodgson incorporates musical refrains, lyrics or choreography from Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Les Miserables and many more, but with a cast of more than 15 people, most of the time it’s just chaos.
Justin Williams and Jonny Rust have built a great multi-level set allowing the action to move around, while creating cubby holes and dens for the Sherwood Forest dwellers, but it takes up most of the tiny Union space, leaving the performers very little room to move around, particularly in big cast numbers such as Silver Arrow or Happy Endings, which is a shame because Mitchell Harper’s choreography is one of the shows few highlights, incorporating reasonably ambitious Fosse movements, which the cast perform well, if only they weren’t so squashed.
If you thought Alan Rickman was hamming it up in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves then he is the picture of sober restraint compared to some of the performances in Twang!!Most of the cast sing and dance well but there’s not a hint of subtly in the whole piece. Peter Noden’s Robin bounds around all but slapping his thighs every time he appears, while no one’s convinced he would be interested in Kweeva Garvey’s self-sufficient Maid Marian. Jessica Brady’s Delphina has a strong presence while Ed Court, Christopher Hewitt and Lewis McBean chew the scenery as the baddies.
There’s no doubting their energy and enthusiasm of the cast, but there are recurring issues with lyrics being lost in the music or frequent squealing obscuring the text making it even harder for the audience to keep track of what is going on. 10 years after Bart wrote this, Disney’s musical Robin Hood did it all much better mixing comedy with a surprising pathos. Sadly, there’s nothing in this rather one-note production to suggest that Twang!! is a lost masterpiece, and it’s probably worth locking back in the attic for another 60 years. If the world is crying out for a Robin Hood musical, it’s certainly not this one.
Runs until: 5 May 2018 | Image: Anton Belmonté