Review: Robin Hood, the Lawrence Batley’s panto for 2021

a theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas.

Panto has come back to Huddersfield in a burst of glitter and innuendo in the form of Robin Hood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre.

The Merry Men and Marion (image: Ian Hodgson)

It only occurred to me upon seeing a pantomime as an adult rather than a child that they encompass a bit of a bizarre set of qualities; aimed primarily at children yet sure to contain a healthy smattering of innuendo to keep the parents on board, a wholesome storyline filled with adventure and the always-present ‘goodies and baddies’, and if at least one cast member isn’t cross-dressing then they’re not doing it right.

Robin Hood, a collaboration between the Lawrence Batley Theatre and theatre producer The Big Tiny, has these qualities in bucketloads.  The show’s eponymous hero (played by Mark Houston) could quite easily appear in the dictionary alongside the word ‘wholesome’, maintaining an air of innocence and gullibility that few could manage with a straight face.  The magic aspect is brought to us in the form of Fairy Bree-Anne (Becca Lee-Isaacs), her colourful attire and makeup so glittery that she’ll be finding it around the house until at least April.  

Speaking of Fairy Bree-Anne, her first line opened the show and undoubtedly won the favour of much of the audience with two simple words: “Ow do?!”.  If there’s one thing us Yorkshire folk like it’s plain-speaking and lack of pretension in our choice of entertainment.  Gone are the days when a certain dialect was expected, and good riddance to them.

The Sheriff of Nottingham and his loyal henchman, Guy of Gisbourne (image: Ian Hodgson)

The Merry Men are a merry bunch indeed, with Friar Tuck (Tom Murphy), Will Scarlett and queen-of-the-costume-change Little Joan (Robert Styles) making up the numbers alongside Robin and Bree-Anne.  Alas, it seems one man isn’t as merry as usual; Robin wants someone to love (with thanks to Queen for the musical inspiration).  

(image: Ian Hodgson)

With perfect timing, the fair Maid Marion (Natalie Spence) – led somewhat astray by her satnav – happens upon the forest on her way to Nottingham Castle and finds herself on the wrong end of one of Robin’s arrows.  What happens next, however, is a diversion from the usual ‘boy meets girl’ tale, and to find out what route their story takes you’ll have to grab yourself some tickets from here!

Every panto needs a baddie, and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Lawrence Stubbings) prides himself on being the baddest baddie in all the land.  His sinister laugh and unkind attics ensure he’s the one everyone loves to hate – and my, how children love to boo the bad guy!  Luckily the boos and hisses were deflected by the Sheriff’s black, menacing-yet-sparkly attire.  Guy of Gisbourne (Laura Corcoran) is the yang to his yin, clearly a bit fed-up of living in the Sheriff’s shadow and dying for the opportunity to seize his five minutes of fame.

My personal favourite character was Will Scarlett, brought to life perfectly by Will Cousins with a performance more camp than a sale at Go Outdoors.  Forming somewhat of a comedy double-act with the panto’s dame Little Joan, the pair compete in terms of gags, gusto and gaudy outfits.    

Overall, Huddersfield’s very own Robin Hood is a jolly entertaining way to spend an evening (or afternoon, if a matinee is more your thing).  Every opportunity for visual comedy has been grabbed enthusiastically with both hands, and the script positively drips with double-entendre that flies over the heads of the small people in the audience (hopefully).  The cast of eight all bring different qualities to the show and good guys and bad guys alike reduce the fourth wall to a pile of rubble by the end of it.  

Little Joan finds herself at the sharp end of the Sheriff’s patience (image: Ian Hodgson)

It’s not only the performers that ensure the show is a hit; the costumes are dazzling, the set is beautifully designed, and the special effects? Well, you know what they say about special effects…

You don’t get that at the Wakefield panto*.  

Robin Hood at the Lawrence Batley Theatre opened on December 3rd 2021 and will run until January 2nd 2022. Tickets are booking up fast, so don’t delay!

*in-joke you’ll get if you’ve seen the show!

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