As Christmas draws near, panto season bursts into full swing, arriving in Lancaster with a flourish. SCAN were invited to watch The Dukes’ production of Robin Hood, a delightful Lancastrian take on the classic tale.
Written, rehearsed and performed within a five-week period, the show belied no signs of its speedy development. An excellently designed, choreographed and performed piece that had an audience of adults and children alike booing, cheering and laughing as one, equally impressed by the creativity and execution of its many hidden tricks.
We attended the evening showing, arriving as a trio at The Dukes, the venue created a fantastic, warm and welcoming atmosphere that lasted the entire evening, even treating us to some pre-show mulled wine and mince pies. Karen O’Neil, Chief Executive of the theatre, gave a speech to praise The Dukes’ tight-knit group of staff and an army of volunteers, thanking those who had come to support them.
The show was The Dukes’ first pantomime in The Rake (their main theatre) since the pandemic, and the auditorium’s larger size allowed Robin Hood’s set designer, Irene Jade, to construct a stage infused with playfulness. From the Forest of Bowland to Pendle (and its witches) to Lancaster Castle, some of Lancashire’s famous locations claim centre stage, gelling seamlessly in a way that speaks to the creative energy behind Robin Hood.
The costumes mixed modern with traditional, Robin and his crew of merry mates sporting rag-tag garbs of the forest while the Sherriff of Nottingham dons a more trendy outfit, of a black turtleneck and jacket that so befitting of this incarnation of the classic villain, never failing to elicit boos from the theatre-goers. Played by Lucas Cheong Smith, the Sheriff was a delightfully narcissistic antagonist, whose grandiosity was played in a similar style to Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
It was our first time watching a pantomime in several years, so getting into the interactive parts was a bit awkward for us as adults initially. But, after seeing children jumping up and down in their seats and sensing the determined energy from the cast, it was hard not to engage fully by the end! Jacob Butler (Robin Hood) had the entire audience raising their fists consecutively in the air shouting “hey, hey, hey!” and singing the “Merry Band” song before long. From the wide-eyed stares of awe-struck kids to parents’ polite chuckling at the many innuendos, the Lancaster audience enjoyed a thrilling evening of family-friendly theatre.
While the play rarely strays far from the well-known panto formula, the cast still provided an engaging and amusing performance of this famous legend. Marian (Althea Burey) is the owner of the Forest of Bowland and a fierce defender of the woodland’s beauty. Tuck (Amy Drake) playfully combined slapstick comedy with merry companionship.
The audience were drawn into the action of the play, either through the front-row’s throwing of balls at the Sheriff in the second half, or an explosive take on the “It’s behind you!” trope.
The highlight of the show was the musical numbers. From a 60’s girl group tune to a sensitive love duet, the work of Robin Hood’s composer Ziad Jabero added depth to all characters. The Sheriff first entered the stage with an energetic song that was one-part Elvis Presley and one-part classic musical theatre, his egotism spilling through the line, “Cause I get what I want.” Ellen-a-Dale (Helen Longworth) strung more folksy refrains that added to the woodland charm of play, while Robin captured the many turns and twists of panto with songs that ranged from rousing to sentimental.
The presence of a sign-language interpreter on the stage spoke to The Dukes’ commitment to inclusivity. Theatre made locally can only work if it works to welcome all people to their performance, and it is this sensitivity to its audience that sets The Dukes apart from the rest. All those behind this play have worked hard to reverse the damage that Covid has done to the arts, and the cast concluded the evening by championing The Dukes’ ‘Renovate The Rake’ campaign, a call for donations to increase seating and improve facilities in the theatre.
In all, it was a lovely evening in the company of fellow SCAN writers and a wholesome audience and cast. It was a pleasure to witness something The Dukes had worked incredibly hard on for a large chunk of the year. Thank you to everyone involved – it was wholeheartedly enjoyed.
By James Wilson, Amy Brook, and Greg Florez