Each year our run-up to Christmas starts with a visit to the pantomime. I’m not one for watching ex-soap stars on stage so for the last 6 years we’ve trusted our family outing to the Oxford Playhouse production, which this year is Robin Hood.
Robin Hood is written and directed by Peter Duncan whom I was rather excited to see sitting near us on opening night. Adults of a certain age will remember him from his time as a Blue Peter presenter. Since then he has been Chief Scout, an intrepid family traveller and he now writes and directs the Oxford Playhouse panto. If his kids don’t think he’s a cool dad what hope have we?
Robin Hood tells the story of a group of Merry Men living in the forest where they rob from the rich to give to the poor. In a modern twist, the Sheriff of Nottingham tries to entice them out of the forest with a “Right to Buy” scheme so that he can capture them. Entwined around all of this is the love story between Robin Hood and Maid Marian.
Of course, this being a pantomime it also incorporates songs, dance, terrible jokes, a man dressed as a woman and a woman dressed as a man. The audience have a job too, to hiss and boo at the baddies, shout ‘it’s behind you’ and ‘oh no it isn’t, sing along to the songs and laugh at jokes.
As we visited on opening night the tickets were cheaper although this did mean the performance wasn’t quite as polished as it will be later in the season. A couple of things didn’t quite gel for me in the first half but the second half was fantastic.
The first half included a water fight, a David Bowie dance scene and plenty of sweets. We met Dame Teresa Tuck (Daniel Stockton), who was a fun and larger than life character but I felt some of her jokes and innuendo fell a little flat early on. Possibly the audience weren’t sufficiently warmed up or perhaps they were just the wrong jokes?
The second half was brilliant and encompassed all that I’ve come to expect of the Oxford Playhouse panto. From its opening Mumford & Sons number I enjoyed every second. There were plenty of toe-tapping songs in the second half which really pepped things up, along with tight rope walking and a flying Robin. They’d managed to incorporate this years big hits, including Daft Punk and that blooming fox song which my kids keep on singing, along with tunes that the older audience members know and love.
So what were the highlights?
My favourite character was the outstanding Sheriff of Nottingham (Andrew Pepper). He played to the audience, acknowledging our boos and responding with witty comments. He was also a dab hand at playing the spoons! The Sheriff had a bad boy act going with Guy of Gisbourne (Kris Manuel) which worked very well, particularly the Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ routine.
The costumes were excellent, in particular the tree dancers. The dancers were dressed in brown and green body suits, with brown troll-like wigs and gloves with leaves on. The tree was the focus of the traditional ‘it’s behind you’ scene which in previous years has involved skeletons. The change this year was definitely for the better.
I enjoyed the musical numbers, with both Robin Hood (Jos Vantyler) and Maid Marian (Leonie Spilsbury) having great singing voices. The musical accompaniment was professional as always, although my seat was very close to the speakers which meant it was slightly over-powering at times.
The audience singalong, led by Big John (Christopher Barlow) and Willow Scarlett (Anna Wheatley), worked really well. The adults sang along to the traditional ‘Robin Hood Robin Hood’ tune whilst the kids had a Robin rap. Of course, the adults were the best but my kids would probably dispute that!
The evening finished with the obligatory wedding and happy ever after ending. Heading back to the car park, I was tinged with sadness that our panto outing was over for another year, but at least we still have Christmas to look forward to.
The panto was very funny. The funniest person in it was Willow because of her puppet voices, although the puppet show was a bit random. I enjoyed it when Robin came flying in on his rope. I also liked the tree dancers as they were very spooky. (Daughter, age 11).
I liked the Sheriff because he made us say boo and hiss. I didn’t like it when they threw the sweets out because I didn’t get any. Robin’s costume was best because it was green and he had a bow and arrow. (Son, age 8).
- Robin Hood runs at the Oxford Playhouse until 12 January 2014. Tickets are still available for many of the shows, and range from £14-£24.50. Further details can be found on the Oxford Playhouse website.
This review is completely independent of the Oxford Playhouse, and all views expressed are those of my family.