While Robin Hood was rich in adult humour, those under 12 may feel robbed of their experience.
The yearly pantomime is a highlight in the calendar of any big theatre. For Mayflower Theatre, at the heart of Southampton’s city centre, it’s no different. This year they take on the Babes in the Wood remake, Robin Hood, with EastEnders duo Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace (Alfie and Kat) taking the lead as Robin and Maid Marion.
The production delivered a lot, especially in terms of laughs. I spent much of the two hours in stitches, as the whole cast delivered a range of well written and cleverly timed jokes. If I was marking for my humour alone, the production would have 5-stars, and everyone would walk away happy. While some of the laughs became a little corny, especially the Sheriff’s song, it was tongue-in-cheek and pitched itself very well.
The issue, however, was the lack of child-aimed jokes for its diverse audience. The faces of anyone under 12 were clouded with confusion as the adults laughed at sexual innuendo, and jokes surrounding the geography of Southampton and Richie and Wallace’s roles in EastEnders. Pantomime is in large an experience for kids, and is a crucial part of the Christmas build-up, and it felt like many kids were robbed (yes, the pun is intended) by the experience they got. This, sadly, was not saved by Richie, whose cheeky persona became a little bit overbearing. He essentially over-acted.
The plot’s inherent confusion did not help. It was Robin Hood in character, but not in plot. The first half centred on an archery competition, the second on trapping Marion, and in between was a haunted house containing a Ghostbusters remake, a chorus of One Direction’s ‘History’, and a massive gorilla running around. I was left a little confused at times; I’m sure the kids were too. Admittedly, they probably enjoyed these wacky sections more, especially the haunted house scene, in that they employed the standard but effective pantomime clichés. Where is the ghost? It’s behind you, of course…
The target aim problem was not the only issue, though. Parts of the show felt unnecessarily dragged out; for example, a slapstick gymnastics section was extremely entertaining for 2 minutes, but then became monotonous. There was a “fun” rendition of the 12 days of Christmas that left you praying for Day 12 to arrive by the time you got to Day 6. Additional to this, there was also one too many mistakes: for a press night, the actors were not on top form. Apart from Richie managing to pull down the set at one point, there was unscripted swearing that they failed to cover up, on two occasions were lines were clearly forgotten, and cues were missed. Naturally, pantomimes are meant to have a constructed slapstick element and mistakes can often be cleverly incorporated, but here there were just one too many errors.
There are some standout performances worth mentioning. I was most surprised by professional magician Phil Hitchcock, who made doves randomly appear and provided some very convincing magical illusions. At points where the production was going down, he lifted the quality back up. The dame, Jeffrey Holland, also gave a perfectly comic-timed performance, as was expected from an actor of Holland’s calibre and experience. The use of 3D was also very clever as you went on a journey through the forbidden forest; it was certainly the best 3D I have ever seen, and the giant spiders were genuinely creepy.
Though there seems quite a lot of criticism here, the production did work. It was entertaining, funny and – if you are over 12 – makes a very good night out. Is it the best pantomime ever seen? No. But it has its comic and production merits for sure. The whole production needed a little polishing, more direction to the kids; but I suppose you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
Robin Hood is at Mayflower Theatre until 8th January. Tickets are available via the Mayflower website.