Christmas Review
 

 

 

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Above the Stag Theatre presents

Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves

Guy Warren-Thomas (Robin Hood), Helen Victor  (Donkey) and Jonson Wilkinson (The Fairy)

Photo by: Derek Drescher

 



Written by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper

 

Directed by Royce Ullah

 

Produced by Peter Bull

 

Above the Stag Theatre

 

30 November – 22 December 2010

 


 

 

 

THE IMPOSTERSary Couzens

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Every performance of this ‘raucous and rollicking adult pantomine’ is sold out, and Saturday and Sunday matinees have now been added in an attempt to keep up with the huge demand for tickets. The fact that this fringe panto’s doing better than the biggies, many of whom are selling excess tickets through discount websites, should tell you something. Last year’s Dick Whittington: Another Dick in City Hall scored a big hit with audiences at the Stag and now the winning team of Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper have teamed up again for the potentially, equally topical Robin Hood Queen of Thieves.

 As this Christmas, we have, hovering faintly, but persistently in the back of our minds, the outrageously arrogant (not to mention unnecessary) cuts to public services looming in the New Year, the real meaning of the word ‘politics’, namely to rob from the poor to give to the rich, seems to be seeping slowly into the consciousnesses of many at last. Is that a paradoxical cause for celebration? Maybe, but there’s no doubt it’s the fire fueling Bradfield and Hooper’s latest nose-thumbing venture into increasingly banal and formulaic pantoland - Robin Hood: Queen of Thieves.

I’ve seen a few pantos in my time, but not having grown up with them, I’ve always found them lacking compared to the lovable mix of irreverence (especially for authority) and bawdiness natives boasted of…until now! In keeping with its’ sensibilities, this panto is far bigger than its britches, in more ways than one. First of all, there are the belly laughs this show inspires, for all kinds of reasons – ridiculousness, rudeness and recognition, as well as the countless pretentious, pompous, over-rated, under-talented and outrageously liberty taking politicians and celebrities it none too subtly lampoons, to the great amusement of the audience. And, on top of all that, there is plenty of pantoesque audience participation via atypical shouting of ‘He’s behind you,’ (which becomes a comic double entendre here), ‘Oh no you don’t,’ ‘Oh yes you can,’ and the like, though such activities were never so widely and enthusiastically embraced and boisterously enacted as they are in this cosy little sixty seat theatre.

There is nothing like a dame, even in a gay pub like the Stag, which also boasts one of the most welcoming theatres in London, and Brendan Riding plays his big, bawdy, Carry On inspired Matron for all she’s worth, causing her to lust after this young (thin) man and that, as well as brazenly flirt with the men in the audience, literally, straddling one in the front row. Be forewarned that if you sit down front, there’s a good chance you’ll become part of the show! During a Benny Hill like sequence when most of the nine actor cast actually runs into the audience, dashing up and down the short staircases of the four - row theatre, pandemonium ensues! Matthew Baldwin as an oily, David Lynch like Sherriff of Nottingham, wreaks of the thoughtless greed the fat cat good life so often inspires, running his hands through his greasy hair as he sadistically victimizes the poor and callously dismisses the needy. One of the many twists in the familiar Robin Hood tale here is that Maid Marion becomes Dr. Marion Maid, a role very well played by a preening Adrian Quinton, who gets laughs with nearly every line and provides an upwardly mobile love interest for the ‘Queen’ of the title.

Adrian Quinton (Dr Marion maid) and Matthew Baldwin (Sherriff of Nottingham)

Photo by Dreek Drescher

 

As Robin Hood in a Kelly green hoodie, Guy Warren Thomas is comically chipper and defiant, and a regular little heart breaker when it comes to the boy he leaves behind, in this case, Will Scarlett. Sam Sadler fulfills that lovelorn role well, reminiscent of comic actors before him like Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, or Tommy Steele in any number of films, bumbling, and well meaning but, here, also sincere in his desire to bed ‘a man, any man.’ Ah, but we’re side-stepping one of the most pivotal aspects of panto – magic, which is largely supplied by Jonson Wilkinson in the guise of Fairy, a demonically grinning, randy fellow whose green tinted eyebrows arch like a satyr’s whenever he encounters anyone the least bit savoury to him, in any way.  Rotund Friar Tuck played like a cartoon monk with a  laughably expressive face by Mansel David, has two weaknesses, food and Brendan Riding’s Matron, the latter obsession of which makes for some delightfully OTT comedic moments, that defy description! Ladies being last in this case, we come to Caroline Wagstaffe in her spirited professional debut as Little Joan and her sidekick Donkey, played by Helen Victor, who still manages to get more than a fair share of the laughs via well timed asides despite the confines of her furry costume, undergoing a ‘magical’ transformation in answer to Little Joan’s wish for love.

As is generally the case with every panto, some scenes are far more - fast paced than others, but here, we realise, really, from the outset, that it’ll only be a matter of moments before we’ll be laughing out loud again. This is largely due to the actors energetic embracing of Bradfield and Hooper’s zany script and Royce Ullah’s obviously, free form direction, which enables any glitches to be incorporated into the fun. Of course, there’s a thinly devised plot, to save Friar’s Tuck’s woodland hospital from being bought out by the Sherriff of Nottingham, aka the big bad government, but that’s just a device to pin the multitudinous jokes to, admittedly, a blending of the atypically cringe worthy Christmas cracker type, and welcome popular culture/political ribbing, often met with loud hissing and boos, all part of the cheery, ribald mix. But shouting , jeering, and cheering, (at the end) not to mention belly laughing provide much welcome release after a day’s work.

From my perspective, based on experience as well as my London born partner’s thinking on it, this is panto as panto was meant to be, low down and D.I.Y. in a makeshift world where Fi Russell’s painted window-shades become scenery, comedic timing is put to great use, and a plethora of big names from show biz and politics get the ironic barbs they deserve for their shamelessly self-serving activities. All of which reminds audiences that it’s still possible to use this medium to not only speak to the masses, but also, to enable them laugh at themselves and their unwitting choices and circumstances in the bargain.

If need be, queue up for returns to see this baby - it may be older than Moses and rough and ready, but it’s also as fresh as a demented daisy.  So, nix to bringing the kiddies….That said, between you and me, panto has never been so much fun!

 

Sam Sadler (Will Scarlet), Mansel David  (Friar Tuck) and Guy Warren-Thomas (Robin Hood)

Photo by Derek Drescher

 

ABOVE THE STAG THEATRE
15 Bressenden Place
London SW1E 5DD

(directly behind the Victoria Palace Theatre,
100 metres from Victoria station)


 



http://www.abovethestag.com/Current_Productions.html

SATURDAY & SUNDAY MATINEES ADDED

Please note : all performances of Robin Hood are SOLD OUT. A waitlist for cancellations and returns opens at the theatre 30 minutes before each performance.

 


 

 

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