Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto

Eight-Freestyle and Contact
Contact, Manchester

Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto
Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto
Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto

It is common for pantos to use songs with which the audience is already familiar to ensure quick recognition. Eight-Freestyle, however, goes a step further concentrating entirely on songs from the 1980s so their panto becomes very much a tribute to the decade that good taste forgot.

Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto is a very ambitious piece. Not only does it incorporate demanding dance routines with full costume changes, the plot strays beyond the legend of Robin Hood to build in aspects of Babes in the Wood. In 1182, the Sherriff of Nottingham adopts orphans Chole and Kim with a view to inheriting their fortune after his henchmen, on his orders, take them on a one-way trip into the woods. The supernatural Fairy of the Forest and Maid Marion turn to the protector of the poor—the outlaw Robin Hood—to help the helpless babes.

The panto retains the key elements of the Robin Hood story—the archery contest for example—so the addition of the babes’ storyline makes the show a bit crowded. One does not look to pantos for logic but Maid Marion, described as both the Sherriff’s ward and reluctant bride-to-be, is no sooner introduced as a dumb blonde than the concept is forgotten. Oh, and the movie Stand by Me was directed by Rob Reiner not Steven Spielberg.

As is often the case with pantos, there is ’saucy’ humour aimed at adults from the actor playing nurse Wilma Fingerdo who, at times, takes more care looking for double-entendres than remembering the song lyrics. The 1980s theme allows for a sweeter, more nostalgic approach. It is doubtful youngsters will get the gag in which Clippy, the paperclip icon, pops up to offer advice on grammar or appreciate the archery contest is staged in the manner of Jim Bowen's Bullseye. The showdown between the Sheriff and Robin Hood is in the form of an affectionate tribute to the (in retrospect) primitive video games of the period.

All the essential panto elements are present and correct. Little John (here, Little Juan) is a thigh-slapping Principal Boy. There is a ‘he’s behind you’ appearance by a ghost and a concluding birthday shout-out / follow the bouncing ball singalong. Characters introduce themselves while encouraging a call and response from the audience. This is so successful, at times the thunderous audience response comes close to drowning out the band. There is even a shamelessly manipulative ‘aww’ moment of petit Chole and Kim singing "Stand by Me" with a doo-wop backing from the rest of the cast.

Yet the company’s commitment to the 1980s theme is such the panto elements are often used as framing devices allowing time for scene changes which set up some extremely demanding dance routines. Lack of a programme prevents giving credit where it is due, but a group of four principal dancers, joined by a dozen or so youngsters aged from teens to barely primary school age from a local dance academy, throw themselves into challenging routines with full commitment. The youngest, seemingly boneless dancers being capable of bending backwards into a ‘C’ shape, feet touching head.

With a four-piece live band and songs performed in full rather than snatches or as a medley, Robin Hood: The 80’s Panto feels like a full-blown jukebox musical hidden inside the panto format. A two for the price of one offer. Although the more than two hours running time might strain the patience of the young target audience, it is undeniably value for money.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

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