Andrew Pollard's take on the Robin Hood story for this season's pantomime at the Palace Theatre in Watford is very much a story-led entertainment. There a smallish cast of seven players and no singing or dancing chorus. Director Brigid Larmour and designer Cleo Pettitt keep the action on the move with enough decorative touches, especially in the costumes, to keep the eye as well as the ear involved in the action.
As Philip Cox's Sheriff of Nottingham plots his world takeover, Robert Rees's Robin takes steps (as well a launching arrow flights) to thwart him. His forest troupe comprises Little Joan (Erica Guyatt) and Friat Tuck (Donovan Blackwood) with Maid Marion (Jill McAusland) and her nurse Nellie (Terence Frisch) assisting from the sidelines.
I suspect that Joan's surname might have been Hunter-Dunn; she's certainly a no-nonsense jolly-hockey-sticks sort of outlaw. And then there's Shirley the Soothsayer (from Sheffield) played by Sheena Patel, a lady manipulating folds of drapery and ambiguous prophecies in equally distracted proportion.
Take-over bids require financing, of course, and Shirley has (if she can only remember just where it's hidden) a scroll which could make the Sheriff into Midas or Croesus. As plot is overtaken by counter-plot and quite a few of the traditional pantomime visual gags slope into the action, the pace quickens.
It all looks splendid with the costumes very much in period – I particular liked Nurse Nellie's oversized horned henin and the mummers into which Robin's gang transform themselves as they seek to enter Nottingham Castle and rescue Marion. There's an energetic fight for hero and villain devised by Alison de Burgh and both Kate Flatt's choreography and Andy Ralls' musical direction are spot-on.
Robin Hood runs at the Palace Theatre, Watford until 28 December.