Berwick and his stage outlaws hit the target again

16 Dec 2012 @ 5.13 pm
| Entertainment

Boat-loads of fun… Berwick Kaler is Dame Hattie in Robin Hood And His Merrie Mam. Photographs: Kippa Matthews, York Theatre Royal
Chris Titley takes his nine-year-old daughter Mia to York’s biggest Christmas tradition, the Berwick Kaler pantomime


Review: Robin Hood And His Merrie Mam
Venue: York Theatre Royal, December 14

Right at the end – which any veteran of a Berwick Kaler pantomime will know is a long time coming – the specialness of this theatrical event is fully revealed. Kaler and long-time sidekick Martin Barrass read out messages from members of the audience – and you realise you’re part of an extraordinary club.

All the message writers had been before. Some had been coming for years. Others had travelled miles to be part of it. Everyone praised the show, even though they hadn’t seen it at the time of writing. They knew it was going to be good.

And they were right. In his 34th York pantomime Kaler delivers – belly laughs, song and dance numbers, corny gags, slapstick – and sends us all home with a mulled-wine warming glow.

Martin Barrass as Geoffrey Hood and Jonathan Race as Sheriff Hutton

Most of the gang are here. Martin Barrass, fresh from his West End triumph in One Man Two Guvnors, is daftly energetic and hugely engaging as Geoffrey Hood, Robin’s brother. Suzy Cooper is glamorously ditzy as Maid Marian. Vincent Gray excels in the difficult role of Robin, the still centre amid the chaos, big-hearted and brave; while Sian Howard is the jolly, motherly Lady Hamalot.

No David Leonard – another of Berwick’s band to have graduated to London stardom, he’s currently playing a different magnificent baddie, Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. Jonathan Race makes for an able replacement, however, putting in an entertainingly moustache-twirling turn as Sheriff Hutton.

Sian Howard as Lady Hamalot, Vince Gray as Robin Hood and the chorus

There are several wow moments. Mia was in hysterics in the slapstick scene which saw Dame Hattie Hood and son Geoffrey in fatsuits zipping in and out of doors, falling over a lot and giving an icy bath to Ice Blondel (AJ Powell).

The two filmed segments had us both hooting too. I won’t give away the jokes, but they are crackers, and executed with skill and gusto.

Charles Cusick Smith’s costumes are astoundingly good, well complemented by the colourful set designs by Phil R Daniels.

I asked Mia for her highlights. Straight away she said the Dame. She loved the way Berwick abandons the script at regular intervals. Also the writer and co-director, he’s a master of his art, commanding stage, fellow actors and the audience with supreme confidence.

Suzy Cooper as Marian
Robin and his merry mam

Mia was also a huge fan of Ice Blondel, the Sheriff’s hapless assistant, whose berserk Brummie accent and sweetly silly antics won her over – and the rest of the audience too.

It’s not perfect. The first half in particular was too long and dragged in parts, and I could have lived without the talking woodland creatures whose main contribution was to slow things down.

But these are minor quibbles. Robin Hood And His Merry Mam brings a freshness and energy to the Theatre Royal pantomime while providing the comforting regular features which the audience demands. It’s a feat all the more remarkable when you consider how consistently Dame Berwick and his band of theatrical outlaws have hit the target over the years.