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Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood

Peter Rowe
New Wolsey, Ipswich
(2011)

Will Kenning as Dame Nellie

Ever since the BBC’s most recent Robin Hood series of 2006-2009, the title has enjoyed somewhat of panto resurgence. Now in his eleventh year at the New Wolsey, Peter Rowe’s 2011 offering Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood is an electrifying mix of rock concert and pantomime and boasts some of the country’s most talented performers.

Rowe’s version of the tale is the perfect mix of contemporary and classic, with his 21st Century Babes going down a treat. Channelling The Only Way is Essex, Britney and Whitney arrive in Nottingham looking for love, but unfortunately for them their uncle, the Sheriff, has other plans...

As the Villain of the piece, Anthony Hunt makes for a devilishly devious Sheriff of Nottingham. His Sheriff has an air of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder and Shrek’s Lord Farquhar about him and the audience delight in his final demise having booed him relentlessly throughout the show’s two hour traffic.

The Sheriff’s plans to rid society of not only the Babes in order to pocket their inheritance, but also outlaw Robin Hood are thwarted at almost every corner in what becomes a string of bad luck for the Baddy. But this is not due to any magical intervention, for this is a panto devoid of Fairy, but down to the fact that his sidekicks Portcullis and Numbskull are more than just a little slow on the uptake.

A wonderful comedy duo, Portcullis and Numbskull provide much of the evening’s slapstick and are constantly biffed, bashed and boshed to the ground complete with comedy sound effects. Tim Jackson as Numbskull gets a considerably more meatier role than his colleague Steve Simmons, but both make good use of their material and much of their humour arises from their contrasting characterisation. Whereas Portcullis resembles a sturdy British Bulldog, Numskull is a more of a gangly pipecleaner. When both partake in a bit of comedy cross-dressing at the request of the Sheriff, the audience howl with delight.

The role that sets the genre of pantomime apart from that of the musical is, of course, the Dame and what a delight Nanny Nellie Nightnurse is. Returning to the New Wolsey for his second panto season, Will Kenning knows exactly how to work the Ipswich audience and delivers good old fashioned innuendo with a naughty twinkle in his eye and a wide and knowing smile upon his face. Saucily licking his lips like a dehydrated salamander, it would be an outrage were he not to return as Dame next year.

Rowe’s rock ‘n’ roll pantomimes are famous for their use of actor musicians and rarely does one stage offer so much talent. From tambourine to trumpet and everything in between, the ten strong cast not only sing, dance and act, but play multiple instruments and sometimes do all four at once. And as if that’s not impressive enough, the stage is bereft of any sheet music, meaning that the quadruple threat performers must recall everything from memory.

There is some unnecessary padding in the form of a travelling troubadour and a subplot of love between the Babes and Merry Men, but other than that the pantomime zips along at a relentless pace. Dawn Allsopp’s sets cleverly segue between scenes with a turn of a turret, a flick of a flag or a lowering of a log and her glittery costumes have all the children wanting their very own for Christmas.

Peter Rowe has achieved yet another smash-hit success and long may his reign at the New Wolsey continue. With fine acting and fart gags in no short supply, this is most certainly one rockin’ Robin not to miss.

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood plays until 28th January 2012

Reviewer: Simon Sladen