The Merry Men of Pantoland: Berwick Kaler, Kenneth Alan Taylor and Andrew Pollard

Reporter: Simon Sladen

Dateline: 29th December, 2012

Why 'Robin Hood'?

First produced as a pantomime in 1795, Robin Hood is enjoying a surge in popularity this year with the title eclipsing Robinson Crusoe, Puss in Boots, Mother Goose and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

As well as productions at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage, Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre, Newcastle and the Riverfront Theatre, Newport, three of the country’s pantomime powerhouses have also chosen to stage the title, where their experienced dames also write and direct.

I caught up with Berwick Kaler at York Theatre Royal, Kenneth Alan Taylor at Nottingham Playhouse and Andrew Pollard at the Greenwich Theatre to find out more about this year’s festive treats.

Kaler is the country’s longest-serving resident Dame. This year’s pantomime marks his 34th for York Theatre Royal, whilst Kenneth Alan Taylor returns to the stage after an absence of three years to play Dame in his 29th pantomime for the Nottingham Playhouse. Both actors have been at the helm of their shows, writing, playing Dame and directing for over two thirds of a century between them, which makes Pollard’s reign of seven years as Dame, eight as writer and one as director at the Greenwich Theatre seem rather small in comparison. However, once a Dame has broken the five-year barrier and become resident, history suggests their reign will continue for many decades as loyal audiences return year after year to partake in the theatre’s annual festive fun.

There are, of course, may pantomime titles to choose from, so why have three of the country’s top pantomime producing theatres chosen to present the seldom-staged Robin Hood?

Over the years, York Theatre Royal’s loyal audience has come to expect the unexpected where titles are concerned, with Kaler joking that, "they would probably turn up if the title was The Telephone Directory!". Previous pantomimes at the theatre include the York Family Robinson, Dick Turpin and Old Mother Milly and after last year’s Jack and the Beanstalk featuring aliens, Kaler was keen to do a version of Babes in the Wood, but with a twist, so Robin Hood and his Merry Mam! was born.

Pollard has wanted to do Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood for a long time in Greenwich, but the theatre did not feel it a strong enough title when compared to the more popular Cinderella, Aladdin and Jack and the Beanstalk. An added complication of requiring Babes and a lack of dressing room space meant that Pollard had to work extra hard to convince the theatre to let him stage the title. "It has taken me about three years to wear James Haddrell (the theatre’s Chief Executive and Artistic Director) down—but finally he said, 'yes'," Pollard says.

Much like Kaler and Pollard, Alan Taylor also wanted the opportunity to play with and stage a rarely-seen pantomime title. Robin Hood has only been produced once at the Playhouse before, but 2012’s Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood is extra special as Alan Taylor is coming out of retirement again to play Dame. So what convinced him to take to the stage for this year's panto? "I felt the urge to be back on the boards when I was writing it," he says, "and also all five of my grandchildren are now old enough to know it is Granddad up there!"

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