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Robin Hood Queen of Thieves

Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper
Above the Stag Theatre
(2010)

Robin Hood Queen of Thieves production photo

Given that I saw my first pantomime at the age of 22, I could be described as something of a late starter when it comes to this particular genre of entertainment, and there's no surprise in hearing that I remained an adult panto virgin for many years after that.

I am not even sure I really understood what an adult panto was for some time; I remember seeing shows advertised with dubiously attractive titles like Blue Christmas and Sinderella and thinking to myself 'why would you?', then moving swiftly on to something altogether different. Well, dear readers something went "BANG!" this year and at the age of cough-mumble I lost my virginity on a snowy Friday evening round the back of the Victoria Palace.

Above the Stag's Robin Hood Queen of Thieves penned by Martin Hooper and Jon Bradfield who were behind last year's Dick. Titter ye not madam - Dick Whitington, Another Dick in City Hall. Oh, go on and titter then

With this show the duo have similarly appropriated a traditional folk tale, given it a contemporary story and populated it with panto characters. The melange has been generously sprinkled with innuendo of all kinds, but mostly smutty, resulting in an entertainment with a fittingly barmy barely noticeable, in fact barely necessary, plot. In this instance Hooper and Bradfield have set themes of the poor oppressed by the rich and greed versus love in a hospital setting: the under-funded public cottage hospital run by Friar Tuck is under threat of takeover by the private medical establishment run by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Boo! Hiss!

Obviously we know the Sheriff's evil plan will be foiled by our dashing hero Robin and he will be aided and abetted by his band of merry men. In this case the merry men are a lustful buxom Dame-Matron character, her permanently high love-sick Buttons-style son, multi-skilled lovelorn lesbian surgeon daughter Little Joan and bumbling, gourmand, rotund Friar Tuck. And for the traditional panto touch of magic they have a well-meaning companion, the twice round the block but now one step away from pixieland scrapheap, Fairy, who sports pointy ears and a glittering beard. Gorgeous Doctor Marion Maid provides the central love story and I am not going to say how Donkey fits in.

The writers have allowed for many of the panto conventions: the characters break into song, throw sweets, have a slop scene and there's plenty of audience participation including one innocent from the crowd and a carrot. If you haven't got it already, this is a show full of traditional references but quoting Shakespeare here means "If you prick us do we not bleed?" gets the response "Yes, but a bit of lube helps".

This is a rollicking pantomime: don't go expecting finessed writing but there are some very funny lines and some very comic moments. It will be even better when the scene transitions are snappier and the cast more prompt on their cues. In fairness it only really came apart once with the song "Rainbow Connection" which needs a lot of vocal work yet, but at the moment Robin Hood is looking under-rehearsed.

Director Royce Ullah could do worse than look at the timing in more detail where the big laughs are and are not happening now that the run is a few performances in. I don't want to make a big thing of this because the audience that were suitably lubed up on wine and beer clearly didn't seem to mind at all, it's just that the more obviously experienced cast members were more comfortable handling the laughter than the others.

Notable amongst the energetic cast is Brendan Riding as Matron who has his finest hour with the Sophia Loren part in the duet "Goodness Gracious Me". Mansel David gives a great comic turn as gannet Friar Tuck and Matthew Baldwin is terrific as reptilian nasty the Sheriff of Nottingham. Jonson Wilkinson is the gravely voiced fairy who delivers dirty jokes in rhyming couplets with twinkling eyes.

So, how was it for me? Certainly hugely refreshing to go to a festive show that isn't bland in its effort to be family-friendly, keep everybody happy or be politically correct. It was very funny but less of an elegant seduction and more of a fumble in the back of a Cortina - but then we all like a bit rough sometimes, don't we? Oooh er Mrs!

"Robin Hood Queen of Thieves" plays until Wednesday 22 December. Suitable for adults only.
All performances are sold out but a waitlist for cancellations and returns opens at the theatre 30 minutes before each performance

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti