After a long year of often serious shows, and the world in chaos, it’s just nice to sit back in a historic theatre to watch a show as comfortable as a pair of old slippers.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll brand is pretty much bombproof from criticism combining a perfunctory attempt at a classic story – which is just an excuse for classic panto madness – while a gang of actor-musicians swap instruments knocking out hits for the young and old. Only in panto could you get covers of The Clash and Taylor Swift songs, that all have tenuous links to the ‘narrative’, and no-one bats an eyelid.
This year poor old Robin Hood got the Peter Rowe treatment as this master of the most British of theatrical traditions weaves in sight gags, puppets, pratfalls, fart gags, corpsing, all the classic call and responses and a huge dollop of smut of the end of pier variety.
Yes, it is raucous, and often rude, but it’s impossible to be offended when you have one of the best Dames on the circuit. The always game Simon Nock dons a succession of increasingly over the top costumes – the Goldfinger outfit (don’t ask) is just bonkers – delivering smut for the adults as Nurse Nelly, and some jokes from the mists of time for the kids. Pantos live and die on their Dame, but Nock has spot on comic timing and a cheeky way of drawing the audience in, so he gets away with some very near the knuckle material. I saw Sir Ian McKellen as a splendid Dame in Mother Goose earlier this year and Nock ad libbing like crazy was just as good.
Unlike other years where the two ‘leads’ were the traditional panto perky boy/girl combo our Robin played by Samuel Pope, and Lucy Keirl’s Marion are a bit older, and the show is all the better for it. Both are powerhouse vocalists as Pope knocks out a strangely moving I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Kriel matches him with soulful (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
This is the 12th version of this show for local lad Kenny Davies, who usually plays the village idiot, so it was great to see this talented actor-musician promoted to a wonderfully dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. His gift for physical comedy was matched by Guy Freeman and Karen Walker as his thick sidekicks. The make-up team did a brilliant job turning the handsome Freeman into a gormless grotesque, and his rendition of I’m Never Going To Fall In Love Again was comedy gold.
It’s a shame they ditched the once traditional massive rubber balls that used to bounce round the audience, but they’re replaced it with something just as fun for kids of all ages. The only criticism is it’s quite a long show for smaller kids, and they could whip out a couple of songs as no-one is here for a coherent storyline.
Panto is often a child’s first experience of live theatre, and this cheeky but warm-hearted show is a perfect way into that unique thrill. Thanks to a top-class Dame and a game team of actor-musicians who are really tight as a band this is the best version yet of an old favourite.
Robin Hood: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto is at Leeds City Varieties until Sunday 7th January. To book 0113 2430808 or www.leedheritagetheatres.com
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 29th November 2023
North West End UK Rating: