Based on an original script by John Savournin, with contributions and lyrics from James Young, David Easton and the cast
Charles Court Opera
Rosemary Branch Theatre
No, it's not an opera, it's a panto: a 'boutique panto' its publicity describes it, and that is pretty accurate for it's a one-off couture entertainment created specifically for this pocket venue. You couldn't get much more intimate and Maid Marian has a roving eye, so watch out good-looking on that aisle seat and don't upset her or you might end up covered in custard, for there is more than song sheet participation here.
Maid Marian, by the way, is played by company founder John Savournin and, since he is also the writer and director, the success or otherwise of this show is largely down to him. And a success, a rip-roaring success it certainly is, not least because of his own classy performance, bubbling with personality under the auburn wig and red and green eye shadow and as handy with the ad libs as with the scripted jokes which are authentically dubious and appropriately tasteless - the audience love her!
Surprisingly I've never seen a panto Robin Hood before. Surely Marion is not usually the Dame, but this works splendidly. We don't have to put up with a cross-dressing, thigh-slapping Robin of Sherwood; Kevin Kyle plays him straight, his gender problems are entirely his own, presenting a good-looking, neatly moustachioed picture of personal bafflement.
However, there is more en travestie for Lydia Jenkins, whose Princess Eleanor, daughter of King Richard I (I know, but this isn't real history) dons another moustache and manages to suppress her royal Sloane Street vowels to pass herself off as a fellow who wants to join the Sherwood band.
Her dad (Simon Masterton-Smith), who anachronistically speaks almost entirely in quotes from Shakespeare, catches the false beard syndrome too. Once he's got used to being Richard I not Richard III, instead of going on the crusades he's also off to Sherwood to keep an eye on Eleanor.
If you want to know any more of the story you had better book one of the remaining tickets fast, they are quickly disappearing (some special adults-only doubly-dirty nights are totally sold out, though you can go on a waiting list).
I will tell you that the baddy is a wicked old crone, a role that Rosie Stroblel clearly relishes, with her oppo Elizabeth Menezes's delightful Geordie Cupid (watch out for her arrows). The Sheriff of Nottingham is nowhere nearly as bad as you might expect - the character, that is, not Sebastian Valentine who plays him, Philip Lee is an audience favourite as Will Scarlett, the joker in the Sherwood pack and piano duo James Young and David Eaton leave their ivories to join the outlaws at times, leaving only Ben Calvert to keep the rhythm section going.
The music, as you would expect is a delight: snatches from the operatic repertoire and some of your favourite show songs ranging from Rogers and Hammerstein to Stephen Sondheim, though not perhaps how you first heard them.
James Perkins's set of wardrobes and colourful cloth hangings works magic without a hint of Narnia, and enables a fast moving show that can even take in traditional pastry business, which rapidly gets out of hand - and that's the audience not the actors! And watch out for the squirrels, one of the best chorus lines this season. In this case little is very, very good!
Ends 9th January 2011
Reviewer: Howard Loxton