One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and one shouldn’t judge a panto by the first name on the cast list. But it’s indicative of the kind of journey the audience is in for when the most prominent character is John Barr’s Dame Nanny Fanny. Mr Barr, whose appearance in the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production of Robin Hood makes this his twenty-fifth panto, is ‘back by popular demand’, and it’s easy to see why. He’s the kind of actor who has honed his craft well, and to misquote Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For The Fallen’, age has not wearied him.
The Sheriff of Nottingham (Lawrence Cole) is here portrayed as someone who is a spoiled and petulant young man, effectively a puppet whose proverbial strings are pulled by his mother Morgana (Georgina Field), who does the plotting and scheming. Nonetheless, it’s the younger one who still drew a slightly louder chorus of boos from the audience. Perhaps throwing one’s toys out of the pram is even more dislikeable than a dastardly plan and an evil laugh.
Local references here are few by Hornchurch’s usual standards, which is fair enough given that the story’s events take place in and around Sherwood Forest. The production still manages to crowbar West Ham United Football Club into the show, and Maid Marian (Barbara Hockaday), partly for narrative reasons, or so it would seem, hails from Ingatestone, a village about 13 miles away from Hornchurch up the A12. Marian is supported by Nanny Fanny and by her sheep, Eweniss (an enthusiastic Elian West).
The title character (Phil Adèle), in keeping with this theatre’s actor-musician emphasis for its pantos in recent years, is more often seen with a guitar on his person than a bow and arrow. An eager beaver, the right balance is struck between earnestness and not being too punctilious – when, for instance, Little Joan’s (Ruth Brotherton) full identity is revealed, Robin Hood is immediately happy without a scintilla of displeasure at having been lied to previously. Completing the set of on-stage characters are the other members of Robin’s merry band (that actor-musician thing again), Friar Tuck (Robert Took) and Will Scarlett (Jessica Brydges).
Robin’s high regard for women has been a traditional part of the story for centuries, and it’s given a suitably contemporary slant here. Not every box in the checklist marked ‘pantomime elements’ is ticked off: no pies were harmed in the making or performing of this production, though some of the characters make a mess of sorts by way of a decorating job that goes predictably awry. I can’t help feeling slightly disappointed that no ghost of any kind taunted anyone in any way (unless I somehow missed it), and what would otherwise have been the “it’s behind you” scene resulted instead in giggles at antics upstage – after all, who wants to help one of the baddies out? (Well, actually, I would have wanted to if I were still a schoolboy: mischievously and rebelliously, I liked to root for the antagonists.)
Song choices were broad and varied, including the 1979 Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer hit ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’ and the 1995 single ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by The Rembrandts, the latter being known for being the theme song to the NBC television series Friends. A delightful medley sees the dame’s love interests fight over one another quite hilariously. Elsewhere, having two glitterballs may have momentarily felt like overkill, but this being a pantomime, over the top wins out over subtlety.
The cast is supported by a ‘Junior Chorus’, comprising ten children – three teams rotate. The group on for press night sang and danced wonderfully, and those who had speaking parts delivered their lines flawlessly. Above all, this was a comfortable and pleasurable experience, and a thoroughly enjoyable festive treat.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Deep in the heart of his foreboding Castle, the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham is taxing the poor to pile up his gold, whilst imprisoning brave Maid Marian and her hilarious nurse, Nanny Fanny.
But the Sheriff hasn’t banked on our arrow slinging hero Robin emerging from Sherwood Forest to target the hand of Marian and outwit the villain’s plans. Can Robin save the day with a little help from his band of Friar Tuck and plucky Merry Folk?
Phil Adèle – Robin
John Barr – Dame Nanny Fanny
Ruth Brotherton – Little John
Jessica Brydges – Will Scarlet
Lawrence Cole – Sheriff
Georgina Field – Morgana
Barbara Hockaday – Maid Marian
Robert Took – Friar Tuck
Elian West – Eweniss
Written by Andrew Pollard
Directed by Douglas Rintoul
Designed by Richard Foxton
Musical Director Tom Self
Choreographer Sundeep Saini
Sound Designer Paul Falconer
Lighting Designer Stephen Pemble
Assistant Director Beth Atkinson
Fight Director Bethan Clark
Costume Supervisor Bronya Arciszewska
Executive Producer Mathew Russell
A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production
by Andrew Pollard