Highcliffe Charity Players Regent Centre, Christchurch KD Johnson 26 January 2024
Pantomime seems to be doing very well this season and I can understand why. When the news is full of war, terrorism, genocide, and other such nastiness – and even the TV is dominated by Traitors – then you really want to settle down and watch something nice and relaxing about bandits and punitive taxation and … errr, perhaps not – but you know what I mean! A pantomime story is predictable, reliable even – good invariably triumphs over evil, the bad guy gets his comeuppance, usually no-one dies a violent death, everyone lives happily ever after and the audience go home smiling.
Highcliffe Charity Players’ production of Robin Hood is just such a tale. Most people will know the story but the skill and the entertainment is in the execution of the classic tale – the music, the dancing, the jokes, the audience participation and various levels of cross-dressing.
In this show, we in the audience are all peasants and on our side is Bee Chumley as a thigh-slappingly good Robin Hood, David Coward is Friar Tuck, while Stan Smith and Pete Whitaker are Alan-a-Dale and Little John. The role of pantomime fairy can be rather dull, but Laura Lock plays a likeable character as the Sprite of Sherwood and has some good lines – I like the fact that it’s not a magic wand, it’s just a stick, though it does come in useful at the end.
On the opposition bench we have Martin Mansfield as one of the best Sheriffs of Nottingham I have seen – unusually without one or more idiotic henchmen. You can really get your teeth into a good baddie (spot the oxymoron!) and this one is a case in point. Martin really milks those audience boos and hisses and we in the audience really enjoy his performance.
The object of the affections of both Robin and the Sheriff – each for their own reasons – is Maid Marion, well portrayed here by Georgina Carter.
Somewhere in the middle we have Paul Barrington as Nanny Fanny Flapjack and her idiot son, Silly Willy – a role in which Harry Young really shines.
Aside from the customary late appearance by Barry Grey as a suitably dignified King Richard, that is it for the main parts, but a show isn’t complete without the chorus and the dancers, both adult and children. Everyone is really energetic and well-drilled in the dance routines and songs which include ‘Brand New Day’, ‘Made You Look’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Revolting Children’ and ‘Gotta Rob a Peasant or Two’ – with various substituted words as required. The musical direction is in the capable hands of Stuart Darling and his team, although at times I think that the music is mixed a bit too loud against the voices of the performers. Top marks are due to choreographers Amber Billett and Charlotte Starr for coaxing the best moves out of all those actors and dancers.
It is not possible to incorporate every known pantomime routine into one show, particularly one that runs over just 90 minutes with no interval, but this one packs in a good few of the familiar ones. At one point my notes say, “The jokes are coming thick and fast” and there are certainly plenty of them – even some that I haven’t heard before. I love the idea of “Treemail” and a “Fungeon”; the routine with Robin’s arrow is really fun and whoever created that archery target is a genius.
The show runs again on Saturday 27 January, at 11am, 2pm and 6pm, and again on Sunday 28 January at 2pm and 6pm – 90 minutes a show, no interval. It’s great fun, very well performed and produced; watching it will provide temporary relief from all those ills of the world that I touched on in my opening paragraph.