I went to see the Chameleons’ production of the pantomime, Robin Hood, on Thursday January 26th. The production was excellent and the pantomime had all the key ingredients you’d expect.
Humour, topical jokes (at the expense of D.J. Trump Esq), songs (sung with gusto and great enjoyment) and a wonderful story. There was the “oh no we won’t” moment from the audience and the usual dressing up of women as men (though not the other way round as well here). Robin was actually a man in this production! (And played by the excellent Paul Jones who got into the traditional thigh slapping with considerable enthusiasm).
And laughs were to be had even with the odd missed cue. Songs came from Men In Tights (amongst other sources) and I was delighted to hear the classic “Robin Hood, Robin Hood riding through the glen” right at the end of the pantomime. Confession time: I didn’t see the original TV series here (on the grounds I hadn’t been born!) but I do recall seeing repeats of it and, for me, no production of Robin Hood would be quite complete without a nod to the series. Incidentally, I did like the BBC remake a few years back of Robin with Keith Allen as the Sheriff but felt that series lost its way when it killed off Maid Marian. (Yes, really).
This version of the classic story had Friar Tuck (played by Dave Wilkins) acting as narrator, setting the opening scene for us all, and being a major player throughout. The local pub was “The Drunken Monk” and there was a reference to being dragged up Hursley Road (presumably when the good Friar had had a little too much “medicinal” lubrication). I felt sorry for Dave Wilkins here as whatever it was that was used to “pad out” his shoulders and chest did not look at all comfortable to wear. Still, it is a fine tradition to suffer for one’s art…
Now there are two problems with staging Robin Hood, so well done to Liz Strevens, as director, for overcoming them. Firstly, absolutely nobody is going to outdo the performance of the much missed Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. The only thing that can be done here is to try not to compete with that. There was a lovely nod to Alan Rickman’s portrayal when Geoff Dodsworth, the Sheriff, announced he was cancelling the holiday to celebrate King Richard’s birthday. Wonderful echoes of Rickman’s “and Christmas is cancelled”.
Having said all that, Geoff Dodsworth got the performance spot on with the right degree of villainy. The “boo” quotient was rightly very high for him! Ah, the perils of success… get it right and you are booed to high heaven.
The Sheriff’s dumb sidekick, Dropkick, played by Terry James owed more than a passing nod to Baldrick from Blackadder.
But this was a great addition as Dropkick earned some of the biggest laughs of the evening. You wouldn’t want to go to his tailors, though.
The second problem is to avoid alienating your audience, you must stick to the traditional story or at least significant elements of it. (This is where the BBC remake went badly wrong though they did bring in Guy of Gisborne as the Sheriff’s NOT dumb sidekick). The Chameleons got this spot on. Robin was outlawed, his lady love was under threat, King Richard came back and all was well.
Incidentally, one thing I loved about this production was the historical accuracy (yes, really!) when the plotline hinges on Richard the Lionheart being captured and held for ransom. King Richard really was captured and a huge sum demanded for his release (which was raised and almost bankrupted the country. Of course, there was a huge incentive to pay up as it meant getting rid of Prince John (albeit temporarily). In the show, there was no mention of John. Robin Hood usually has either the Sheriff or John as the chief villain and here it was the Sheriff, though one of my favourite classic Disney productions has them both and the wonderful Sir Hiss, voiced by the great Terry Thomas.
A good pantomime is farcical, has plenty of slapstick, lots of music and a good time is had by all – on the stage and off it. No problems with any of that here!
Pantomime has a long history (and the link takes you to an interesting article by the University of York. I had not known why pantomime is traditionally shown at Christmas and just into the New Year. David Garrick, the great theatre man, wanted to cash in on the popularity of the genre and yet not have it threaten serious productions such as Shakespeare’s plays. I don’t believe pantomime would ever have done that but it was thought it could at the time and so by limiting when productions of pantos could be staged, Garrick unwittingly introduced another tradition. The whole article is a fascinating read especially the history of the Dame).
In the show here, the Dame (played by Jan Bradshaw) was Dame Euphonia, the Sheriff’s sister, who liked her men (but had failed miserably to get one as all were put off when they discovered who her brother was), but she did eventually get one in the form of Lord Knowse, played by Mike Morris.
The sight of milord in his vest and Union Jack underwear (after being robbed of his fine clothes by Little John, played by Nick Coleman, and his incompetent outlaws) is an image that will stay with many of us who watched the panto, I’m sure. Dame Euphonia liked the image a lot. Many laughs ensued.
Lord Knowses’s role was to raise funds to ransom King Richard but the plot hinged on the Sheriff deciding he would make use of the money raised. It was also nice to see a second romance in the story and that of an… ahem… well, let’s face it, a couple not in the first flush of youth. Still, Lord Knowse and Dame Euphonia did achieve their own happy ending.
Pantomime is often people’s first introduction to the theatre but it is also great from the point of view that it caters for all ages. Some of the jokes are bound to go over younger watcher’s heads (and probably just as well too). Some jokes specifically aimed at younger watchers will induce huge groans in older ones – and a really good pantomime joke is where there are lots of said huge groans. Nobody expects perfection and indeed when a pantomime seems to go wrong it all adds to the fun (though I do wonder sometimes how much of that is nicely staged).
And, given Robin Hood is one of my favourite stories because of its universal theme of wrongs being put right, of all the pantomimes for me to go and see, this is it. I like to believe Robin did exist and suspect he really was a disinherited nobleman on the grounds of Robin’s legendary fighting abilities with a wide range of weaponry. A nobleman would have had access to those things. Not so, the peasant community.
My favourite stories from within the Robin “canon” (absolutely no apologies for the pun – this is a post about pantomime after all!) include the Golden Arrow and the rescue of Friar Tuck, though my very fond memories of the Disney version are influencing that a lot.
So if the Chameleons do put on Robin Hood again and you get a chance to go, get your tickets early. It’ll be interesting to see what they put on for next year’s panto.
And it was a jolly good show!
Image Credit: All images from The Chameleon Theatre Company Flickr account and all photos by director, Liz Strevens.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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