Sometimes it’s fun to watch a pantomime through another’s eyes. Instead of falling into your usual comfortable slump, yelling at the stage with an ‘I’m such a good sport’ smile, take a moment to think about how strange this tradition must look to non-British people. Why do we as a nation love a form of theatre where the main joke is how bad it is?
The answer is that something about panto’s terribleness unites us. We roll our eyes affectionately, laugh more than we should at terrible puns and leave feeling light-headed and slightly silly. As superior and witty as British comedy purports to be, it can also be incredibly puerile and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hence the phrase ‘so bad it’s good’.
It’s a shame then that ‘Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood’, currently playing at the City Varieties, seems to forget the essence of what makes pantomime work. The production has a professional sheen, but it lacks the ramshackle silliness that makes panto so loveable.
There’s plenty to like about the show, notably the ‘Rock n’ Roll’ element, which featured in last year’s City Varieties pantomime, ‘Dick Whittington’. The actors weave between acting, singing, dancing and playing instruments with admirable skill and the song choices are appropriately groan-worthy. For the most part, the acting is spot-on, the only weak note being the Dame, who fails to raise more than the occasional light chuckle.
What the production lacks is the jokes to support the music. All the humour is aimed at the little ones – there’s little in the way of innuendo or cultural references for the adults to smirk knowingly at. In addition, the main draw of pantomime, the appeal for audience heckles, feels more forced than it should, as though the writer suddenly remembered he was writing a pantomime, not a musical.
Pushing three hours in length, ‘Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood’ might not whisk you away with its Christmas campness, but it’s worth seeing for the fun music choices and fine performances, notably Matthew Burns as Blondel and Darrell Brockis as the nefarious Sherriff. Let’s just hope that next year the City Varieties remembers to bring the silliness as well as the music.
Robin Hood will be playing at the City Varieties until January 10. Tickets are available here.