Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Robin Hood: Prince of Thorngumbald by Middle Child Theatre.
It is appropriate, in this time of rising cost of living when many families are reconsidering the cost of luxuries, that Middle Child have produced the hottest panto ticket in town with this year’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thorngumbald. Once again striking the balance between family fun and irreverent gags with a side eye to the audience.
The writing and direction from Paul Smith is wryly aware of the applicability of the Robin Hood story and, while definitely set in the medieval period – albeit with a few deliberate anachronisms – the script is packed with topical humour amongst the quickfire puns. The usual self-deprecating jokes about the size of the budget and the state of the effects are still present. Smith’s work on these people’s pantos is characterised by a gentle pulling back of the proverbial curtain, picking at the edges of panto convention.
The music, led by Frew as musical director, is riotous and fun. There are plenty of opportunities for the audience to sing along, sway in their seats or tap their toes to the music. Reinventions of songs from the world of musical theatre, and of pop, litter this score. Some modern hits and some golden oldies with some comic musical stings for good measure. All of the musical numbers are a joy to watch.
The cast are given the full scope to play off their audience. As Prince John and The Sheriff of Cottingham respectively, Jack Chamberlain and Alice Beaumont sass and mug at their audience, basking in the boos and hisses. Our reformed Pattie Breadcake, now Sister Skeg, is played with puns and winks galore by Marc Graham, an excellent anchor for the production. Ryan Harston as Robin Hood is at points jubilant and silly, while still managing an excellent tragic turn. Equally, Josie Morley captured an earnestness needed to give the production heart while remaining consistent with the piece’s sardonic tone.
This year, however, my personal standout performance was Andy Ross as the reluctant stage manager. Their deadpan performance paired with some unexpected character moments encapsulated the show’s capacity for the zany and unexpected. They are an ensemble bouncing between the stage and the cardboard trees.
Speaking of cardboard trees, it is worth mentioning that the design, from set to costume, is bright and beautiful in its simplicity. Natalie Young’s work here matches the rough and ready feel of the production, evocative of a brightly coloured fairy tale world. Similarly, Adam Foley’s lighting design is brassy and unapologetic, occasionally dramatic and clever but ultimately offering the show a beautiful punctuation.
In its mission statement, Middle Child states its aim is to create a good night out with big ideas. Robin Hood: Prince of Thorngumbald is a fantastic example of just how well the company can deliver exactly that. It is punchy and hopeful, championing togetherness in the face of hardship. Once again, this rock ‘n’ roll panto should be unmissable in your schedule this year.