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The Press - Review: Robin Hood and his Merry Mam!

Mon 17 Dec 2012

Written by Charles Hutchinson

 

After his Queen Victoria-length reign, dowager dame Berwick’s reputation is such that not only will he feature in a Michael Grade documentary on BBC4 on December 20, but last Friday’s Daily Mail placed the Theatre Royal second only to Lily Savage’s comeback at the O2 Arena in its feature on must-see pantomimes.

Bizarrely it called Kaler the “Lawrence Dallaglio of the heaving brassiere”. Less bizarrely, Kaler has re-titled Babes In The Wood as Robin Hood And His Merry Mam!, which means it does exactly what it says on the tin, giving prominence to a character never previously prominent in the mythical tale of Hood. His wham-bam Mam, is the, er, school teacher in Hamalot.

The first half will be the one Kaler will have trimmed and speeded up by the time you read this, because most of the best stuff, especially his own scenes, come after the interval.

There are plenty of introductions and re-introductions, welcoming Jonathan Race as the new villain, Sheriff Hutton, in the absence of David Leonard on Matilda duty in the West End, and welcoming back "nephew" Vincent Gray after two years away in German musicals.

Gray’s Robin is the handsome, heroic heartthrob, playing it straight, and repertory regular Race’s Sheriff plays is straighter still, riding in on his horse Camilla (is that name a reference to a certain royal personage, one wonders). Yet the way Race says “Ding Dong” hints at what his villain may become, should this resourceful actor, noted for his understated comic skill, be granted a reprise next year.

Just as writer/co-director Kaler nurtured Martin (Geoffrey Hood) Barrass’s put-upon sidekick schtick and Suzy (Marian) Cooper’s golden girl, so he has overseen A J Powell’s enthusiastic, eternally optimistic Brummie become essential to the show’s chemistry.

Indeed Powell’s minstrel Ice Blondel is the first half's big success, whether dancing Ice/Under Pressure with Race in Brendan Matthew’s best piece of choreography, or suffering a soaking in the bath-time slapstick or showing off his “fabulous legs”, and not for the last time, in the disguise of an Austrian schoolgirl.

Blessed with gorgeous sets by Phil R Daniels and some of Charles Cusick Smith's best ever costumes for the dame, Kaler and Damian Cruden’s production hits the target as accurately as Robin’s arrows in the far funnier second half. Especially when it picks up on two of 2012’s biggest happenings, the London Olympics and a certain South Korean pop phenomenon, here given a brilliant video pastiche in Panto Style.

This is the second of two gloriously funny and daft film sequences, the first in Kaler's garden using Cooper to best effect, and praise too for debutant musical director Mike Turnbull,; a delightful woodland transformation scene,; Sian Howard’s game Lady Hamalot; and the fun contributions of the ensemble and “young people”.

As ever, this Kaler-Cruden collaboration has a Panto Style all of its own, a little self-indulgent for the first hour, but fabulous from there on.

Read the review on The Press website.

 

 

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