The Mudgee Performing Arts Society started their latest production at the Mudgee town hall on Friday, June 16.
The pantomime of Robin Hood will continue this weekend.
This is a review of the production by Jen Davies:
So, how long is it since you could cheer, boo, clap, stamp your feet or hiss with impunity in a theatre? It’s probably the last time you saw a pantomime.
Pantomime is unique: there is no barrier between the actors and the audience. It’s the audience’s job to join in, to be the chorus, to hiss the villain and throw ‘rocks’ at the guards. It’s a format that is a joy to children and adults alike: there’s something delightfully cathartic about ‘telling them what you really think’ for a couple of hours.
The MPAS production of Robin Hood has all the elements of good panto. The dashing, but cocky, hero, Robin Hood wins his delightful lady-love, Maid Marion and thwarts the despicable Sheriff of Nottingham There’s a band of outlaws, defenceless children, the most amazing nurse, a tax collector, guards and a trio of rabbits. Yes, rabbits.
Ben Croker’s writing takes the legends of Sherwood Forest and turns them into a happy story that offers a nod of respect to those who made the roles their own: Errol Flynn Vivienne Leigh and the late, great Alan Rickman. So far, that sounds pretty standard, but what makes this show special is what the locals have done with it.
Under Lydia Smith’s capable direction there are some local in-jokes, many about the rivalry between Mudgee and Gulgong, but others a little more subtle. And then there are the rabbits. Don’t mess with The Rabbits of Sherwood.
James Eade seems to be cementing his hold on the romantic lead: he plays a Robin Hood of plausible appeal and endearing flaws, and he’s well supported by the charm of Madalyn Date as Maid Marion. She sings exquisitely and her Marion is by no means a helpless victim. Robin and Marion would be nothing without the Merry Men (and women) of Sherwood. The supporting cast is terrific. Sam Paine’s brightly coloured Alan a Dale instructs the audience and sings his heart out – as befits a minstrel. Many of the familiar names from the legend are there: Friar Tuck, Little Joan (well it is 2017), Much the Miller’s Son and more. Lachlan Date and Sienna Hawes play pivotal roles as Tommy and Tilly, the orphan nephew and niece of the Sheriff, and they’re a lovely mix of brattish innocence.
Josh Hayward summons up every ounce of evil and slimy nastiness he can find to give life to the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s a glorious over-the-top role supplemented by his side-kick, the unfortunate, obsequious tax collector, Dennis, played beautifully by Louise MacPherson. Together they are foolish and sinister in turn. But even they didn’t mess with the rabbits: two sartorially splendid rabbits and one a little more casual in his dress.
For me, the show was stolen by Dame Winnie Widebottom: a larger than life vision in brightest pink frills and horn head-dress. Melodramatic characters are an integral part of pantomime and done well, they make the show. Michael West was wonderful. His Winnie was effusive, excitable, expansive – and endearing. The audience loved her!
The music is a feature: rather than a soundtrack of unknown material that tells the story, Lydia and Musical Director, Anthony Featherby, have drawn on a range of familiar pieces that are apt and add to the story. They’re drawn from the charts and the shows across a fair range of decades: you’ll know most of them, and never have connected them with Robin Hood before. There is one medieval song, an unaccompanied round with a lovely solo from Milla Jones. The Robin Hood Band is a small group, but their sound was beautiful and they hold the show together, transitioning the scenes, cueing the audience and responding to the in-jokes.
Mudgee is so fortunate to have such a versatile and enthusiastic group of players. They are wonderfully talented but we should not forget that they are volunteers, most have full time jobs and they give their free time willingly to create these moments of escapism for us. Love of the theatre and storytelling is a great gift, and for children especially, pantomime is a great place to start.
And if you want to know why you don’t mess with The Rabbits of Sherwood. . . .you’ll just have to go and see the show. If you’re aged between five and ninety five you’ll love it!