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Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood (Bishop's Stortford, Rhodes Arts Centre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Question: what do you do with a smallish stage and a largish cast both of principals and chorus? Answer: you add an elaborate false proscenium, suitably decorated with castle battlements and theatre mask,s and extend the acting area through this by incorporating the steps from auditorium to stage while letting a lot of the action happen in the auditorium itself.

It’s just one of the simple but ingenious elements which go to make up this year’s Rhodes pantomime. Malvern Hostick is the designer for the set and Jules Dale for the costumes. Both aspects give this small-scale production big-show values. Jeanne Stacey is the director for Phil Dale's script, and Dale has written himself a show-stopping part as the Sheriff of Nottingham, rampaging through the audience in his black leathers like a particularly dangerous Hell’s Angel.

You can bet that this lawyer-turned-politician is not the type to go around kissing babies. He’s far more likely to stick a custard-pie in their faces. In this story the Babes (Ella Forman as Jill and Josh Copsey as Jack at the performance I saw) are the children of King Richard I (there’s a nice historical might-have-been) which he has entrusted to the care of their cousin Marion (Grace Wheeler) whilst out of the country (a EU summit, perhaps? certainly not the Third Crusade).

If the guardian fairy of Sherwood Forest Elfwand (Kelly Middleton-Evans) is concerned for the children’s future, she has every right to be so. For the Sheriff has a mother in the monstrous rod-puppet shape of Terroressa (Danny Gleeson), the sort of ambitious maniac to teach even Grendel’s dam her place in the pecking order.

 Faye Linden makes a worthy opponent for these machinations as Robin with a strong personality, the right sort of boyish looks and a good singing voice. Her numbers with the Merry Men and Marion kept the audience’s interest – not every Principal Boy nowadays can pull off the necessary mixture of bravado and tenderness for a love scene. The young chorus makes the most of Hayley Burns' choreography.

Comedy is provided by Lee Ellaway as Nurse Trott, trying hard to keep son Will Scarlet (an engagingly limber Connor Linden) in the schoolroom and out of the outlaws’ company. Then there’s the double-act of Nathan Stickley as bossy Bodgit and Dan James as slightly-camp Scarper. They’re very funny as they make a mess of every mission – on stage, in the aisles and just about everywhere else. Alistair Dean and Phil Childs provide the music, and quite a lot of the sound effects besides.


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