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The TRSE panto is back to its loopy best under dream team Trish Cooke and Robert Hyman
Sure, there are tonnes of filthy innuendos in this panto version of 'Robin Hood' by Trish Cooke and Robert Hyman, but at its heart this is a show aimed at a really young audience - and one that sends a positive message about being yourself.
It’s torn between medievalism – with a surprise appearance by a giant puppet dragon and the chequered pageantry of the design by Harriet Barsby – and something much more modern. Robin Hood’s Merry Men take on a distinctly contemporary twist: Will Scarlet is Red, Little John is Titch and Friar Tuck is simply Tuck.
Michael Bertenshaw’s King John has fun playing with the punters. He calls the audience ‘plebs’ and talks about George Osborne, using the language of the Tories to prompt huge choruses of booing. Derek Elroy puts in a star turn as the Nurse, busting some brilliant moves and coming out with a line that’s not only applicable to panto, but is essentially a philosophy for life: 'you might as well sing, you’ve paid.'
Without relying on slightly reworded pop hits, the show is stuffed full of original musical numbers by Robert Hyman - the last of which, a triumphant victory song with trumpet fanfare, just won’t dislodge from the mind.
So far, so panto. But what really sets Stratford East’s production apart is its bizarre digressions. A Shawshank-style escape from King John’s prison becomes a song about how great bugs are, performed by a giant stripey worm. Later on, John summons dancing coins from trapdoors to help him do a number about torture.
What with the bright colours of the set and the relentless cheerfulness of Robin’s Merry Men, you’d be forgiven for thinking you'd OD-ed on Tangfastics and are now in the throes of some disturbing, hallucinatory sugar high.
But it all adds up to make a buzzing, knowing and highly original bit of entertainment.
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