Alan Wooding reviews Robin Hood at Milton Keynes Theatre
It may be a story straight out of English folklore, but now the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men has been turned into a seasonal pantomime which is set to fill Milton Keynes Theatre until mid-January judging by last night's performance.
In truth, this particular Robin Hood panto is a vehicle built around versatile actor, comedian and all-round entertainer Shane Richie who makes the leading role his own – although to me he'll always be the charismatic Alfie Moon, former Iandlord of the Queen Vic in EastEnders.
Showcasing the fabled outlaw who lives in Sherwood Forest – although Londoner Shane is probably more at home in Epping Forest – this Robin Hood tale has plenty of heroes and villains and it certainly makes for a great family pantomime penned by Alan McHugh and brought to the stage courtesy of Qdos Entertainment.
Featuring an outlandish story from the Nottinghamshire woodland, four of Robin's Lincoln green clad henchmen are played by an amazing acrobatic tumbling troupe of Merry Men known as The Acromaniacs whose hair-raising knockabout antics deserved huge applause.
I won't go into the panto's actual storyline other than to say that it's a familiar plot and that there's no love lost between our arrow-shooting hero and the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham superbly played by Pete Gallagher who receives all the usual boos and hisses.
But it's Shane Richie's Jack-the-lad personality which really shines through, his ease when talking to the children who are called up on stage is great to see while he's hugely entertaining with his knockabout style when confronted by the excellent Peter Piper who plays Robin's best mate, the comical rotund Friar Tuck.
Then there's talented actor and songstress Gina Murray who plays The Spirit of Sherwood. She delivers some cracking vocals and while there's no traditional dame in this pantomime, we do get to love Zoe George as Maid Marian whose hand in marriage is the basis of this adventurous tale, the swashbuckling Robin naturally being the one she chooses after escaping from the evil Sheriff's clutches.
Children from the MK-based Dancebox Studios are the Babes in the Wood and are part of the ensemble while Robin's trusty sidekicks Little John (Jamie Kenna) and Will Scarlett (Michael Quinn) had Wednesday night's audience in stitches with their comic routines.
And as for Merlin, the greenwood wizard played by professional magician Phil Hitchcock, his illusions and amazing tricks certainly had the audience totally baffled.
There were gasps when the Sheriffs's huge pet Tyrannosaurus Rex appeared from the depths of the forest while a fabulous 3D sequence brought screams from the audience as they came under attack, the 3D glasses being supplied as you entered the auditorium.
Add to that the stunning scenery, the special effects, loads of glitz, glamour and beautiful costumes along with plenty of traditional boos and hisses, it means it's a show that the whole family can enjoy and take part in.
With an absolutely fabulous cast and a talented four-piece orchestra under the direction of the keyboard-playing Michael Bradley – which I found overpowered some of the vocals! – the choreography is both slick and stylish while there so many laugh out loud moments and some thoroughly entertaining skits which included audience participation.
* Robin Hood plays Milton Keynes Theatre almost daily until Sunday 13 January with evening performances at either 6pm or 7pm on most evenings and matinees at 1pm, 2pm or 2.30pm – check the theatre's website for times. Call 0844 871 7652 (booking fees apply) or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes to book.