Theatre Space North East
From 05 August 2017 to 06 August 2017
Review by Peter Mortimer
The good folk of Sunderland deserve some Saturday afternoon cheer as they face a new football season playing the likes of Barnsley as against last year’s opponents, Man U, Chelsea et al.
So plenty to smile about in Mowbray Park where Theatre Space North East presented their performance of David Farn’s Robin Hood.
Pantos aren’t usually produced in August, outdoors and in a promenade performance but there seemed no complaints here as the audience faithfully followed the action round this luxuriously arboreal setting—what better backdrop to conjure the atmosphere of Sherwood Forest?
Keeping a panto’s pace and momentum is a challenge when you’re constantly upping sticks, but the ten-strong cast, aided by the delightfully dotty script, manage to pull it off, as we stroll past duck ponds, Victorian statues and over bridges in pursuit of the actors.
"Pretend you’re a tree," says one character to another as they try to hide. He does. "How was I?" he asks. "Very wooden", comes the reply. Panto needs this kind of delicious corn, plus energy, pace, a lack of inhibition, a simple storyline, loads of action and rationed portions of the soppy love sections (often over-indulged by celeb pop stars). We get all this.
It also needs quick thinking such as here, where the string of the long bow unexpectedly breaks. "The power of the imagination!" cries the character and improvises.
Neat touches include Samantha Bell’s Prince John as a dead ringer for Donald Trump, complete with effectively appalling hair and tangerine face. This allows for a bit of political comment, always served up with humour. David John Hopper as Friar Tuck is the pivotal role, building a strong relationship with an audience only too ready to join in the banter. Dale Jewitt is Robin with David McCarthy as Little John and Eilidh Talman as Much the Miller’s daughter. Steven Blackshaw’s Sheriff of Nottingham offers us the second boo-hiss character.
It’s a strong cast, vigorously directed by Corinne Kilvington, who is also Maid Marian. Kazoos, a drum, a tambourine and lots of noisy lumps of wood combine for the sound effects. Often the piece nicks from the likes of Monty Python but that’s in the nature of panto, summer or winter.
There’s a shortage of local references—possibly because this is a touring as against static production and also no kids are pulled up to participate. Again, no-one seemed to mind.
The company offers three al fresco productions this summer. David Farn has also edited down Shakespeare’s Henry IV pt. 1 and Much Ado about Nothing, both presumably with fewer belly laughs than here.