Robin Hood and His Merry Mam!
13 December 2012 – 2 February 2013
Reviewed by Erica Bourn
The panto at York's Theatre Royal is an institution – as synonymous to Christmas for many as putting up the tree or Turkey with all the trimmings. This year’s offering is Robin Hood and his Merry Mam! It is set in 1212; King Richard the Lionheart is away fighting in the Crusades, whilst here at home Robin Hood and his crew have the task of saving the rightful heirs to the throne from the evil Prince John and dastardly Sheriff Hutton of Nottingham.
In Robin Hood and his Merry Mam all the classic ingredients are evident – this is Panto at its best and truly laugh out loud funny. There's the wet slap sequence with the orchestra hiding beneath umbrellas, there is a hilarious high wire act with Kaler suspended above the action, there's the cheap local jokes, fat suits, there's the dog on a stick and numerous other recurring panto gags but most importantly there is the returning cast, oh, and the wagon wheels and Newcastle Brown Ale!
For those wanting a D list cast of waning soap stars and X-factor rejects, you will be disappointed. This is a professional panto cast whose sheer love of the whole thing is apparent from the off, and I feel is one of the key features which endears it so much to the audience. It is very much a 'family' with cast members reuniting year after year, which adds to the feel of the whole production, and eases the way for the ad lib, for which there is plenty, (the audience aren’t the only ones at the edge of their seats to see what the dame does next with Kaler’s ceaseless antics seeing the cast also forced to reign in giggles).
There has been much uproar locally that David Leonard will be absent from his resident role as baddie this year, (1st time since 1995), however, his stand-in of Johnathan Race, was equally high calibre and commanded the requisite boo's of panto land with aplomb. Berwick’s nephew Vincent Gray as the Essex eye-candy for the mums in the title role – Robin Hood, not his Merry Mam obviously. Mam, AKA Mrs Hattie Hood, is played by dame, writer and co-director Berwick Kaler in the old ham’s 33rd pantomime in York and his 40th in total. AJ Powell – the exaggerated Brummie who thinks “you’re luvverly” – is Ice Blundell, a budding minstrel who can’t play a note and has legs worthy of Kate Moss. Serial stooge Martin Barrass is Kaler's trusty side-kick Geoffrey Hood. Suzy Cooper is the principal girl role of Maid Marian to celebrate her 18th Theatre Royal panto.
The production was absolutely top-notch. Sumptuous costumes, (certainly not recycled from previous productions in a 'that will do' kind of a way) and visually spectacular sets both by Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith, were a feast for the eyes. Brendan Matthew’s choreography excellently performed by the cast and ensemble was enthralling. One of the highlights of this year's performance were some of the musical numbers with the Sherrif and Ice Blundell having a wonderful send up of the Vanilla Ice song 'Ice Ice Baby'. Mixed media was also used to great effect with a couple of 'films' added into the mix – the 'It's Panto Style' parody will stay with me for a very long time. A couple of Beatrix Potter-esque scenes also added the 'ahhhhh't factor to the evening’s proceedings, with Mr and Mrs Badger, Hedgehogs’ and many other woodland couples, all with a hybrid blend of Yorkshire, Somerset and Brummie accents, slightly strange…
As a venue, the Theatre Royal is fantastic, only a stone’s throw from the Minster in the centre of beautiful, historic York. Plentiful parking at the Marygate car park (about 5 minute’s walk – free for residents with pass after 6.00 and a couple of £ if not), max 10 mins from the train station, (handy for the many out of town devotees) and well served by buses and park and ride. Leg room was good in our dress circle seats, an important factor for a three hours spectacular and a 6ft 2 husband. Refreshments were provided in the interval in the lovely cafe bar area, which also serves good quality and very reasonably priced local fayre. All of the staff we encountered were extremely courteous.
Had I been accompanied by my 5 year old son, rather than my middle aged husband, I feel he would have taken away other things than we did. There are aspects which appeal to a wide range of ages, although the humour did have a more adult leaning. For me, I couldn't have asked for a more enjoyable performance, and smiled from the rise of the curtain until falling asleep that night – studded only by some of the deepest belly laughs I have had in a long time. Think this would move even the grouchiest of scrooges… Christmas has officially started!
Overall rating: 5/5 – firmly on my Christmas 'must do' list
Bronze performances: £12-£21.50 (Concessions available), Silver performances: £12 – £24.50, Gold performances: £14 – £26, all 4.30 performances: £10 – £15
Robin Hood and His Merry Mam is at York Theatre Royal until 2nd February 2013. Tickets available https://www.yorktheatreroyal.purchase-tickets-online.co.uk/public/show_events_list.asp
Photo by Kippa Matthews