As we all know, Robin Hood is that guy in tights who lives in Sherwood Forest and steals from the rich to give to the poor.
What you might not know is that Robin also masterminded the safe return of the Babes in the Wood after their wicked uncle (aka the Sherriff of Nottingham) arranged for them to be bumped off for inheritance purposes. But, as Duns and District Amateur Operatic Society showed in its Christmas pantomime last week, in Panto-land anything is possible.
The weaving together of these two traditional tales into a single stage-work provided just the kind of larger-than-life characters and complicating sub-plots that are the stuff of pantomime. Under the seasoned directorship of Lynn Gray, and supported by a large, well-drilled cast, the drama unfolded with all the repartee, innuendo and high spirits of the genre.
A generous stage set with bold, colourful backcloths and ingeniously projected forest scenes gave the whole production a sense of scale and confidence, which filtered down through almost every line of the show. Even the sound effects impressed, from the Hammer Horror organ chords (and lightning flash) at the mention of the Monster in the Moat to the pleasant tweeting of birds in Sherwood Forest (was the undertone of cicadas a sign of global warming perhaps?).
It is difficult to make an utterly decent character interesting and, in this panto, Robin Hood is Mr Decent. However, Hannah Hay’s Robin was convincingly authoritative, while his Maid Marion (Maddy Lerpiniere) managed to be sensible without being stuffy and wronged without being weak. Both principals also proved able singers.
Robin’s Merry Band – in this refreshing age of sex equality containing only one Merry Man: Little John (Spike Hardy) – supplied suitably blokish support, culminating in a brilliantly choreographed punch-up between Freya Tuck (Rebekah Herbert) and one of the Sherriff’s henchmen.
Dame Daisy Dunce (Ben Foreman) was a multi-coloured confection of ringlets, ribbons, lashes and curls, her matronly figure quivering with indignation at the cruel treatment metered out to the Babes by the dastardly Sherriff.
Interestingly this was the second time Duns theatre fans had seen Ben in skirts since October when he donned the habit of a Franciscan friar to play the philosopher John Duns Scotus in Duns Players’ production of ‘You, Dunce!’, making it two dunces for Ben in as many months. True to form, Dame Daisy’s soft heart couldn’t be totally concealed by her worldliness, posh accent and flirtatiousness (“Is that Robin Hood with the bows and arrows? Well, he’s certainly making me quiver!”).
Dougal Affleck’s shaven-headed Sherriff of Nottingham looked and sounded like an cockney old-timer from EastEnders and turned out to be a hopelessly lost soul, too far beyond redemption and mired in evil even to pair up with the Dame in the final scene. Wealth and power by any means were his motto – only proving how often real life can take its lines from a panto script. The only fitting end for such a monster was to meet his own Monster of the Moat, a shocking apparition which did not appear on the cast list.
The Sherriff’s henchmen, Ruby Reddy (Rachel Gray) and Ronald Ruff (DC) provided one of the best comedy duos I’ve seen at a DDAOS panto. Rachel Gray took an impressively strong lead as the relative brains of the partnership, while DC provided the perfect dim side-kick by managing to combine the mannerisms of Barry Chuckle and Churchill the Bulldog. Ruby to Ronald: “Stop acting like a baby.” Ronald: “I can’t help it – I was born that way!”
Lilly and Milly, the Babes in the Woods themselves, were charmingly played by Jessica Taylor and Eliza Bevan. I’m sure I wasn’t the only member of the audience touched by the sight of these sleeping children being watched over by the fairies of the forest. In fact, the younger players, including the large, children’s chorus and some strong cameo roles, displayed impressive discipline, hammered home no doubt after months of Saturday-morning rehearsals. Despite a gruelling succession of entries and exits, they managed almost to a person to keep their attention on the action, their faces constantly responding to the drama and reflecting the emotions it aroused.
As director Lynn Gray told me during the interval: “The kids have been fabulous. That’s what panto is all about – it’s about the youngsters. The kids always shine.”