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Review: Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood at Gala Theatre, Durham

Two traditional children's stories combine in true panto style in this sparky festive treat from the regular team

Panto promises merry time at Gala Theatre
Panto promises merry time at Gala Theatre

Two traditional children’s stories combine in true panto style in this sparky festive treat from the regular team.

A Gala pantomime without Neil Armstrong as the comic baddie and Paul Hartley as the audience’s buddie wouldn’t be the same and in former theatre director Simon Stallworthy’s latest tale they are on form as The Sheriff of Nottingham and well-meaning Will Scarlett, here joined by Alan French playing the flamboyant panto dame Nurse Nellie.

As the villain of the piece, Armstrong taunts us as mere “peasants” and “chavs” as he sets his sights on Maid Marian (Emma Devlin) while planning to rid himself of the king’s two young daughters left in his care.Cue lots of “he’s behind you” and “oh no it isn’t” join-in fun as the Sheriff’s hapless sidekicks Stink and Stench lure the girls and Nurse Nellie to the forest and abandon them to a night-time ghost.

There’s also a lovely dream-like fairy scene courtesy of the cast of impressive dancers, before Robin (Gareth Leighton) comes to the rescue.

It’s the traditional ingredients rather than the storyline that matters in pantomime, of course, and they’re all here, with my favourite being the messy cake-baking scene while the previous year’s water-gun also made a welcome re-appearance.

The man in the front row who’d brought along a mini umbrella-hat only made things worse for himself.

Hartley’s banter always works well as does Armstrong’s goading of the audience, and his departing shot of “shut up!” each time he walks off stage.

 He’s always a funny baddie rather than a scary evil one, with a nice line in ad-lib such as “gag that child” at a sudden interruption.

And I really liked David Tarkenter and Martyn Dempsey as his servant soldiers Stink and Stench who are a great comic addition.The shoehorned-in pop song - viral hit What Does the Fox Say? - went down well and the bad jokes, many of them food-related and courtesy of Friar Tuck (Marcus Houden) were, well, as cheesy as you’d expect.

The home-spun nature of the Gala’s annual show always appeals to me: no 3D or high-tech trickery (although Nurse Nellie does manage to levitate at one point); just a good old-fashioned family panto which has its own distinct charm and is reliant upon good performances, colourful sets, elaborate costumes (I especially liked Nurse Nellie’s floral creation with her garden headwear) and that feelgood atmosphere which we all play a role in creating.


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