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Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood

by on 4 December 2019

Babes on Barnes Common

Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood

by Alan Frayn

BCP, at Kitson Hall, Barnes until 7th December

Review by Andrew Lawston

The wine is mulled and the pies are minced, panto season is underway at Kitson Hall in Barnes, where opening night jitters are kept firmly under control by a confident cast who certainly seem to be enjoying their performance enormously.

Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood is this year’s pantomime from the Barnes Community Players, and features a fresh-faced and energetic principal cast supported by veteran members.

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The show opens in Nottingham with Richard the Lionheart (the imposing Mark Hunter, who later doubles as a Peasant Who Resembles the King) about to leave on a crusade, and entrusting his niece and nephew to the Sheriff of Nottingham’s care. This takes place during an archery competition won by Robin of the Hood, the outlaw who has been poaching deer in the royal forests in order to feed the poor.

There is, perhaps, a little more plot to all this than we might be used to in the opening scene of a pantomime, which means the fun takes a few moments to get going, but a rousing rendition of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky soon sets the tone for an evening of upbeat adventure. The band is marvellous throughout, pulling off some challenging numbers with great gusto and a sound which seems much bigger than just the four of them: Martin White on keyboard, Grainne O’Kelly on sax, Terry Walker on bass, and Andrew Hale on drums.

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Once the newly-dubbed Robin Hood gets together with his Merry Men, the laughs begin in earnest. There are many venerable pantomime gags, as well as some newer and funnier material, which is all remarkably clean and family-friendly. Thaisa Smart gives a gung-ho and energetic principal boy performance as Robin, playing well against Darcie Hunter’s feisty and determined Maid Marian. Jessie Lowit gives a strong performance as Will Scarlet, and it’s a shame she didn’t get a bit more to do. The Merry Men’s capabilities are soon enhanced by the brewing skill of the enthusiastically tipsy Friar Tuck (Jill Turetsky), whose tonsure provokes a brilliantly-delivered one-liner from Little John. Steve Hunter’s childlike Little John is often the cement binding the show together. He gets a lot of the best jokes, and delivers them with great timing.

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Pitted against the Merry Men, however, are the Sheriff of Nottingham (“Tarquin”) and his henchpersons Snivel (Alexa Bushell) and Grovel (Ciaran Parker). All three have enormous fun with their villainy. Alexa showcases her impressive singing voice in a villainous rendition of Bad Guys from Bugsy Malone, while Ciaran’s grovelling is conveyed through impressively energetic physical comedy. The pair provide some familiar panto routines while making the material seem utterly fresh through their sheer enthusiasm.

RHoodBabes3The Sheriff of Nottingham is played by Robyn Bloomfield, who was a relatively late addition to the cast, I understand. In a cast full of colourful characters, Robyn plays the Sheriff with admirable restraint, as an icy and rather aloof villain,  often raising a disdainful eyebrow at the audience’s booing. Our opening night crowd was possibly a bit more subdued than the rest of the run, and I hope subsequent audiences give Robyn more to work with and react against.

RHoodBabes2The eponymous babes are played with suitable charm and suggested mischief by Jadon Standing and Zoe Prokopiou as… Sam and Ella. Their presence in the story forces the Sheriff to send for her old nanny, Nurse Nellie Nickerlastic, which sees the bombastic entrance of Nick Barr on Dame duty, doubling up here as the show’s director. The Dame is such a crucial ingredient of modern pantomime, and Nick revels in the part, with a dazzling array of costumes and an outrageously lip-synched entrance to Shirley Bassey’s Big Spender. Glorious fun.

The cast is rounded out by a Minstrel played by Fergus O’Kelly who sadly never quite manages to get to the end of a wonderful rendition of Oh What a Beautiful Morning, the fairies played by Roberta Podavitte and Amanda Marsden, and a chorus consisting of Marion Earle, Phyllis O’Kelly, Ocean Costelloe, Maggie Denin, and Frida Felicia Urelind. Ocean Costello also has a moment to shine through a flamboyant moustache as Sir Guy of Gisborne, but it seems as though the author acknowledged he had too many characters at that point. Perhaps Sir Guy can come back for a sequel next year? It’s a very talented ensemble, and the cast make the two hours or so fly by effortlessly.

Musical director Deirdre O’Kelly has done a magnificent job with an eclectic list of songs ranging from ELO and Pink Floyd 70s classics through numbers from Oklahoma, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Bugsy Malone, all the way up to date with a song from Frozen (not that song, though!). The band and the singers stay sharp across the varied list of songs, with some great choreography from Amanda Harker. Amanda seems to have worn several hats for the show as the programme notes she also took on hair and make-up, and costumes (with assistance from Marion Earle and Pennie Bayliss). The costumes are marvellously bright and colourful, complementing Annie Collenette’s cartoonish set design. There’s a bold cartoon feel to the production, which is reflected across the costumes, make-up (Nurse Nelly’s glaring bright rouge), sets, and even props with a wonderfully over-sized TNT plunger, and huge triangular points on Robin Hood’s arrows. The visuals are a credit to the individual crew members, as well as to Director Nick Barr and Production Manager Andrew Hale bringing all these elements together to form a cohesive aesthetic.

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Stage Manager Sally Copeland keeps the action moving at a brisk pace during scenery changes, while two Martins are in charge of the light and sound: Martin Walton takes care of the lighting cues with slick aplomb, and Martin Spriggs on the sound desk and looking after the headset microphones worn by some of the principals. The technical wizardry helps further elevate the show: it might be playing in the rather homely Kitson Hall, but Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood feels like an evening in a dedicated theatre. Top notch family entertainment as an appetiser for the Christmas holiday season!

Andrew Lawston
December 2019

Photography by Patrick van de Bergh

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