Labelled as their ‘Christmas’ pantomime, Robin Hood and his Merry Band certainly put us in the festive spirit, albeit a little early for some.
The production took place in the Deb Hall, a space that was needed to not only house a large audience, but also support a carefully designed set to enact Sherwood Forest. A row of ivy leaves was lowered below the proscenium arch and the cyclorama cloth lit with a green wash. There were also two flats on either side of the stage, painted as the walls of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s castle. Played by Theo Byrne, the Sheriff was a cold-hearted and fraudulent statesman, wasting the working people’s hard-earned cash on parties and other indulgences. It just goes to show that even pantomime – the most family-friendly and entertaining of theatre styles – can quite easily convey political messages about government and ownership.
What Panto Soc do very well is to stay true to pantomime as a style. Marion (Katie Payne), arguably the protagonist as she later wins the title of Sheriff, immediately made herself known to the audience, as did Fairy Fifi (Chloe Wiltshire). It’s important that we are made a part of the characters’ journey, even if we are not actually dragged up onto the stage. Nevertheless, I was addressed early on by Robin Hood’s right-hand man, Much (Gabriel Hawking); an inevitability when you sit in the front row. Additionally, an aisle between the two banks of seating allowed many of the characters to enter and exit the stage. Nanny Nora (Marion’s guardian played with great vigour by Emily Mackinnon) even appeared from a small open window from high up towards the back of the auditorium. Occupying all areas of the Deb Hall, the cast maintained high levels of energy, for a performance that lasted for over two hours.
Panto shows are usually made unique by their musical numbers: songs that are well-known but have their lyrics adapted to fit the narrative. These included Bills, Do You Hear The People Sing? and If I Didn’t Have You. All of these were sung with great enthusiasm by the whole cast and accompanied expertly by a full band. Live music really enhances the quality and atmosphere of a production, and highlights the collective efforts made between cast and creatives. Some notable musical interludes also included the musical director Oliver Hawley leading a rap battle for the ‘Nottingham’s Got Talent’ contest, as well as two solos sung beautifully by Katie Payne. Another reason to argue for her as the protagonist would be her relationship that eventually ends in marriage with Nora’s daughter, Elinor (Emily Harle). The production team, led by Annie Jackson, dealt with the theme of same-sex relationships in an assured manner. Moreover, Harle’s ability to use sign language rather than spoken text was another touch that really demonstrated how disability barriers in the theatre can be broken down.
Of course, plaudits have to go to Robin Hood (Holly Watson) and his trustworthy followers: Much, Friar Tuck, Alana Dale, Little John and Will Scarlett. Each had their own quirk that mainly resulted in laughs, as well as the occasional ‘ah’. I never expected the Friar to binge on chocolate bars whilst reciting from the Bible. In contrast, the Sheriff’s two henchmen, Rot (Rhianna Harrison) and Stench (Susie Wakely) captured the essence of pantomime villains with their maniacal cackling and quivering salutes that made them lovable even when booed.
A spirited performance from the cast and crew, with its fair share of green tights and tinsel to welcome the festive season.