Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

robin hood and merry men

Tom Cooper as Robin Hood with Kane Blundell as Mitch the Miller's Son (left) and Joseph Flanagan as Little John

Robin Hood & the Babes in the Wood

Sutton Arts Theatre


When it comes to pantos,  as we have said before,SuttonnArts isArts is up in the amateur equivalent of the Birmingham Hippodrome and London Palladium end of the spectrum.

Year on year they punch way above their weight which is all the more remarkable as they are working on a limited stage with no wings or flies and they have managed it yet again.

You might wonder why babes in the wood made its way into Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen ♫ . . . (sorry, it’s an age thing, ask granddad), but all is revealed in a tale of . . . well there’s a sort of plot with daring do, a bit of murder and stuff, but this is panto, and the audience don’t want Chekov or Ibsen, they want to hiss and boo, cheer, shout out and have a laugh, and that’s just what they get.

Robbie Newton has grown into a fine actor and revels in the role of baddie as the Sherriff of Nottingham, handling hecklers, who all seemed to be fearless children, with aplomb. It was a fine panto villain performance taking on the audience with booming voice and wild gestures.

And every panto has to have its Buttons/Wishee Washee/Idle Jack or in this case Silly Billy, played in style, and flashing boots, by James Hutt. The panto funny man has to have a rapport with the audience, he has to be their best mate and James manages that from the start with a performance of skilled daftness.

And panto is not complete without a dame, and panto dames are not even a runner in a drag race, they are unashamedly a bloke in a frock, or dozens of frocks, each more outlandish than the rest.

The bloke in thus case is Jonathan Owen as Nanny Nellie Knickerbocker, who manages that delicate balancing act between lines that are just plain old funny for all, and a smuttering of double entendres that leave children wondering why adults are laughing more heartily than they are.

Panto tradition demands a bit of smut, the odd nod to filth, but well hidden from the inquisitive minds of the innocent, whether youngster or maiden aunts, and Nanny and Billy found the balance perfectly.

Keyleigh Alison as Doris and Josef Hammond as Boris provided us with a dim-witted double act as the Sherriff’s bumbling tax collectors, with Keyleigh, who first came to our notice some eight years ago at Aldridge School as Thenardier’s wife in Les Misérables, looks like a comedy find to keep and eye on.

Doris and boris 

Doris and Boris

Then we have to have the serious, actory ones who sort of try to make us believe panto is really a drama trying to escape the mayhem, in this case our hero Tom Cooper as Robin Hood and the delightful Sophie McCoy as Maid Marian who bring a little theatre and romance into proceedings to break up the laughs with Robin battling the evil Sherriff who is determined to wed his spirited ward Marion among other nefarious deeds.

Nice sword fight sequecnes by the way, whoever was responsible.

And then did we mention the babes in the wood, like what the title did? It’s not really the babes in the wood, like in your actual Babes in the Wood, its more like, well just two babes who are sort of dumped in the wood.

The babes being Percy, played by Shae Dewsbury and Isla Ricketts as Penny on this night, children of the Sherriff’s brother who has just shuffled off his mortal coil leaving his vast fortune to his offspring, the babes.The old Sherriff next in line for the payola if anything should happen to his niece and nephew. . . need we say more, even without Specsavers you can see where this is heading. 

Keeping an eye on things all in rhyme, fighting crime, all the time, till it's fine  . . . it gets a bit catching if you get too close – is Hannan McNamee as the Sherwood Forest Sprite who has a flash bang wallop entry every time she appears.

friar and dame 

Paul Wescot as Friar Tuck and Johnathan Owen as Dame Nellie

There is good support from a hard working ensemble and of course Robin’s merry men, notably Paul Wescott as the amorous and permanently hungry Friar Tuck who appears in a clever scene in Nannie Nellie’s school with Billy using chocolate bars before an ending with a Matilda style song complete with swings.

There is a rather messy bath sketch – messy if you are in the bath that is – and we even get a fun rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas, although I don’t remember the original involving water pistols.

Sets at Sutton are always a challenge with the space limitations but they always seem to be overcome. Design team Mark Nattrass, Paul Wescott and Colin Edge found a solution this time using a series of roller blinds midstage which effectively divides the stage in two with different backdrops such as palace, general scene or a scrim and while the action is front stage, scenery is changed behind the blind which rolls up to reveal a new scene which keeps up a cracking pace without a pause.

Throw in excellent costumes and enough pyrotechnics for a modest bonfire party, some demanding and well executed choreography (Anna Stuart), traditional panto routines and plenty of laughs and you have a show for all ages.

The brilliant Gladstone Wilson, tinkling the ivories, is the musical director with Tom Brookes, also on keys and Jay Haywood and Adam Hawkins on percussion completing the band providing excellent musical backing and we even have Hollywood (near Bromsgrove) special effects which can’t have given much change out of a fiver – Megabuses on wires don’t come cheap you know!

We have a few topical comments, which can be easily adjusted if  there is another PM during the run, but most of all there is a surfeit of fun and in these cash strapped times you can’t turn your nose up at that.

Most important of all, the kids loved it. For many of them panto is their first experience of theatre so get it right and a love affair blossoms with the next generation of performers and theatre goers.

Directed by Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead, Robin Hood will be robbing the rich to give to the poor and all that stuff amid the laughs to 17-12-22

Roger Clarke


Sutton Arts Theatre

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