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posted/updated: 05 Jan 2019 - edit review / upload photos
Robin Hood
A family pantomime by Stuart Wren
society/company: Acorn Theatre Company (directory)
performance date: 04 Jan 2019
venue: The Intimate Theatre (St. Monica's Hall), Palmers Green, London, N13 4DH
reviewer/s: Chris Abbott (Sardines review)

The Intimate Theatre, Palmers Green, is hosting three amateur pantomimes this year, but these may be the last shows at the venue. It’s quite a survival; a church hall from the 1930s but built as a theatre with a balcony and a pros arch stage with flying facilities. It was used as a professional repertory theatre for many years but no longer meets the needs of the parish that owns it, and it seems likely that the replacement will not have the same theatrical focus.

This week, however, Acorn Theatre Company have been performing Robin Hood, using a script written for them in 2009 by Stuart Wren and in a production ably directed by Simon Payne, who is also MD of the excellent five piece band. Although I have reviewed at this venue before, this was my first visit to an Acorn production, and it was good to be warmly welcomed, handed a programme and asked if there was any information I required. All par for the course when reviewing professional shows of course, but by no means to be relied upon in the amateur sector – many thanks for that.

A large cast of more than 30 worked hard to entertain their audience, who were themselves playing their part well and joining in all the responses (and inventing a few more of their own). Loyal returning audiences are one of the most important assets of a company like Acorn. Musical numbers were greatly enhanced by first-time choreographer Louise Wendel’s efforts, especially considering the large number of children in the cast.

The story of Robin Hood is traditionally merged with the Babes in the Wood story, giving a Dame role to the Babes’ Nurse. With no Dame role here, this was not a standard panto, but the story of Robin Hood and the archery contest was told clearly through the interaction of the characters and a narrator. In the title role, Luke Ricketts was a confident actor who certainly looked the part. Opposite him was Laura Ruocco as a feisty and forthright Maid Marion. They worked well together and coped well with the singing; it was good to note that songs were kept short throughout and not prolonged as is all too often the case.

In a large cast it is not possible to comment on all the performances, but others that were more than up to the demands of the piece included Peter Levy as a somewhat diffident Sheriff of Nottingham and Linda Levy as his sarcastic and well-spoken Bailiff – her every word was heard and her timing was excellent, and this was generally a production in which spoken dialogue was well-delivered. I did wonder whether this duo might have been even more effective if they had swapped roles however, so that we had a sarcastic and more obviously evil Sheriff with a bumbling Bailiff?

Most of the comedy was in the hands of Terry Aylott as Friar Tuck, essentially filling the space left by the absent Dame, and with a confident sense of timing he was well able to deliver the material he had been given. He also worked well with Ashley Jarvest’s Alan-A-Dale, and both were excellent when ad-libbing and talking directly to the audience. It seemed unnecessary, however, for Alan-A-Dale to keep moving to the forestage, in an area decorated with old show posters and unused guitars, to read narration from a music stand; this held up the action just as it got going, the actor was uneasy and made no eye-contact with the audience, and if this was to cover set changes then music alone would have been far more effective.

The large ensemble were mostly children and were excellent throughout – an engaging stage presence, lots of smiles and fully committed – the future of the society is safe I am sure. It was a shame that the budget did not stretch to colourful costumes for most of them, their collection of blacks, greys and browns looking more like rehearsal clothes. And at times it might have been better to have had them leave the stage during some of the important dialogue between principals; it was all too easy to be distracted from some of that by all the interesting acting going on in the chorus.

The performer I noticed first however, and again throughout the evening, was a young member of the ensemble, Connor O’Shea. His engaging stage presence, wholehearted commitment and skilled dancing must mean he is not too many years away from a lead part. With so many young people in the cast, not common now by any means, it is only fair to acknowledge as well the work of the Chaperones led by Lauren Price.

Local community panto at its best then, and with the added value of raising large sums for charities and keeping membership fees much lower than in many similar societies. This did mean, however, that resources were tight, and this was clear from the look of the show. The set was a series of stock backcloths and costumes varied in effectiveness, although most of the principals looked the part. The final arrow and heart for the walkdown was a nice touch although the pyro was hidden by the cast for those in the stalls.

Like every other panto I have seen this year (12 and counting…) the Baby Shark song was included (and Brexit, flossing and Teresa May dancing – a full house in panto bingo). The prize for invention goes to Acorn however for cleverly changing the words of Baby Shark to make a relevant songsheet with actions. I hope this company will find a suitable venue in the future to continue their pantomimes, but perhaps they should also slightly reduce their charitable fund-raising in order to spend a little more on costumes and other visual aspects of the show.

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