Oxford Playhouse - Robin Hood
29th November 2013 to 12th January 2014.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Opposing tax rises with Robin Hood
Robin Hood, at Oxford Playhouse, until January 12
Right from the start of the Oxford Playhouse pantomime Robin Hood, you know you are not going to see a standard show full of cheesy references to twerking or selfies. Instead, the professional actors, along with a team of children, stage a meta-theatrical discussion about the wealth gap within society and the iniquity of paying taxes.
From this breaking of the fourth wall, the line "but when Robin Hood was alive..." allows director Peter Duncan to whizz the production through to a joyous number about dancing between the greenwood trees. Suddenly we are immersed in a colourful, mediaeval Nottingham.
Homelessness and poverty underpin this pantoland where the ruling aristocrats, Guy of Gisbourne (Kris Manuel) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Andrew Pepper) hiss and prowl while carrying out a forest cleansing project. They generate a suitable volume of boos as they insult the audience and act dastardly towards the forest gang opposing them.
These performances are traditional in that the actors create universal pantomime baddies but then Duncan surprises the audience by having the Merry Men portray them in a puppet show on a beautifully- designed trolley-stage (prop designer, Kay Sentance). Sir Guy becomes a devil character while the Sheriff is portrayed as a Gruffalo-type ogre with delightfully long teeth. The puppets invent a bedroom tax to torment their citizens (more boos). A more serious, historical point is also made that the duo bring in these taxes only because King John intends to subsidise his brother Richard The Lionheart's Middle-Eastern wars.
More surprises follow. The growing love between Robin (Jos Vantyler, star of the North Wall's Dead On Her Feet) and Marion (Leonie Spilsbury, most recently at the Playhouse in Less Than Kind) is staged in a wacky and quite brilliant David Bowie fantasy dream sequence. A modernist, Daliesque film is projected onto the image of the moon and these fine actors have a ball demonstrating their characters' puzzlement after these dreams.
There's some hilarious comic interplay between Little John (Christopher Barlow) and Will Scarlett (Anna Wheatley, one of the stars of last year's Burton Taylor show Tea Time). Enjoyable tomfoolery.
There are reviews from The Stage ("a pantomime with great gusto and verve"), the Oxford Mail ("simply put – and by that I mean laughs, hollers and screams per minute – it’d be a crime to miss this year’s Playhouse panto... it’s loud, colourful, clever, smart, surprising and utterly, utterly enjoyable... the most accomplished, most memorable and most perfect of Christmas treats"), Stage Talk ("It’s very weird. It’s very loud. It’s a lot of fun" - 4 stars) and the Henley Standard ("the sad fact is that for all the energy and inventiveness in this retelling of the Robin Hood story, the younger members of the audience weren’t engaged").