Panto Review: Robin Hood and his Merry Mam - York Theatre Royal ✭✭✭

Robin Hood and his Merry Mam
Berwick Kaler as Hattie Hood
Photo by Kipper Matthews
York Theatre Royal

Review by James Eaglesfield

York Theatre Royal’s panto and Berwick Kaler, its veteran dame, have an impressive reputation that is the envy of theatres throughout the country.  With this comes expectation and York audiences will be filling the theatre’s auditorium throughout the run to see whether Robin Hood And His Merry Mam hits the target.

In many ways this new production provides everything you would expect from a York panto and regular audience members are probably going to leave happy but not all is well in Hamalot.

This of course is a new version of the usual tale of the outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor and it has to be - everyone has come to see Kaler’s dame not a bloke in green tights.  For this reason you could possibly excuse the self-indulgence of the character introductions. People are familiar with many of the faces in the cast and welcome them back like rarely seen family members, but this is at the expense of setting the shows pace and getting in to the plot.

Martin Barrass as Geoffrey Hood &
Jonathan Race as Sheriff Hutton

Photo by Kippa Matthews
Ah, the plot.  There is no point going in to detail about the plot – most will know the basics anyway and the storyline is incidental to proceedings in some respects. In a way there is much more here than usual and that is a possible reason that it doesn’t quite click. It doesn’t flow well and lurches from one scene to another – shoehorning sections and characters in.

The key interaction between Kaler and his regular sidekick and onstage son Martin Barrass is not as strong as in previous years and they spend noticeably less time on stage together.  The renowned slapstick routine does not reach previous standards as Barrass runs around randomly with Kaler watching on. The routines in general lack that certain spark that has been their trademark and are missing the levels of invention York audiences have come to expect.

The main problem lies with the show’s pace or lack of it. With a 3 hour running time this is a long slog – and that’s from an adult’s perspective, I would dread to think what it does for a fidgety five year old.  It needs to speed up, lose some of the excess and at least 30 minutes. The woodland characters are cute but do we need the musings of a couple of slow hedgehogs that never seem to quite get to the action (a metaphor for the whole show perhaps)?

Suzy Cooper as Maid Marian
Photo by Kippa Matthews
As always, the Theatre Royal embraces video technology – this year in two sequences, which is one sequence too many. The second, which I will not spoil for you, is simply not needed.  It is very well done, very amusing and will one day be a YouTube hit but that is where it belongs, not in a live theatrical event.

But this is not a terrible show and there are lots of positives. Not least the costume and set design which are fabulously colourful and joyous.  These are supported by the exuberance of the chorus who all sing and dance with passion and gusto. Likewise the lighting is spot on and adds to the overall, slick and glamorous feel. The music is appropriately up tempo and the band exceptional, although there does seem to be more of a reliance on commercial rather than original numbers then has been the case before.

In the main cast, AJ Powell steals the show. His endless enthusiasm shines through and he puts in a virtuoso performance which is probably worth the entrance fee alone. His musical number with new Baddie Jonathan Race is certainly the highlight of the first act. Race’s baddie is played simply and straight, a truly professional  performance. It is therefore a shame that he is given less interaction with the usual gang – there is no horseplay (though he does ride one) or teasing from the other characters as is customary, though this could develop should he be given the chance to return in future years.
I have no doubt that a week or so in to the run things will be vastly improved and the fat trimmed at which point it could merit an extra star and finish with a total of 4. At the Press Night performance, which surprisingly had an alarming number of empty seats,  it was surely still work in progress.

York panto fans will still love the show and if you are a regular then this review will not put you off. However, if you are one of the few people in the York area who have yet to make the pilgrimage to the Theatre Royal at Christmas, this may not be the one to begin with as it falls sadly short of its own exceedingly high standards.

3 stars ✭✭✭

Robin Hood And His Merry Mam continues until Saturday 2 Feb 2013.
York Theatre Royal Box Office 01904 623568