Tradition does sometimes need a tweak,
but getting that twitch absolutely right can be something of a
high-wire act. Take Chris Jordan's version of the story of Robin
Hood which is this season's pantomime for Stevenage. It's
set firmly in the reign of Richard I, skates tactfully over the
God-fired and blood-spattered fervour of the period, maroons the king
in France rather than Austria – and makes the object of the crusade
Byzantium rather than Jerusalem.
No babes-in-the-wood for Jordan, but a
Sheriff of Nottingham who aims to by-pass John and take the throne
for himself – Marian is the king's relation as well as his ward in
this version. Dame Doubletop has been Marian's nurse since childhood
and son Will is now Marian's bodyguard. So we have a compact story in
a recognisable context, much aided by costumes ringing the changes on
scarlet and gold with those for the Dame running some amusingly
outrageous variations on the medieval theme.
After projected storyboards have given
us the background, onto the stage stalks Brian Capron, our villain.
Eminently boo-able and hiss-able, he throws in a couple of references
to his more familiar role on television before letting us into the
murky realm of his political and financial scheming. From there the
story gathers momentum with Saxon outlaw Robin Hood recruiting his
band, including tall Little John, diminutive Much the miller's son
and plump Friar Tuck – who's not at all who you might think he is.
Tracey Penn makes Robin into a
stalwart hero, one with full stage presence and a voice which chimes
well with the sweet one of Francesca Leyland's Marian. Ray
Griffiths is definitely the audience's favourite character however,
from his very first appearance from under Little John (John
Alastair)'s cloak. Paul Bentley's fine voice has its chance
towards the end when the reality of Friar Tuck is revealed, and
David Dobson whirls on and off stage as Will Scarlet.
Dame Doubletop in Paul Laidlaw's portrayal is a flurry of puns,
carefully calculated throwaways and local references – and just the right sprinkling of
innuendo to keep the adult members of the audience focused on what's
going on. This season's ubiquitous "gangnam style"
interjection is seamlessly incorporated into a proper dance sequence
– Sam Spencer Lane's choreography is excellent as are the musical
arrangements by Robert Cousins with Chris Whitehead directing
from the pit.