Robin Hood, Ye Olde Zoome Panto.

Date 9th January 2021
Society Leighton Buzzard Drama Group
Venue Online
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Jo Taylor
Producer Jo Taylor

Report

Author: Richard Fitt

Very few people will disagree that we live in strange times as we battle the current pandemic and sadly one of the major causalities is the live entertainment business, which is currently all but non-existent. Well actually, not quite; there are one or two groups out there with imaginations big enough; who are prepared to think way outside the box and find the means, without breaking any guidelines to make sure the ‘show must go on’. And one such group showing its latent talent in that direction is Leighton Buzzard Drama Group. Using an organisation called Ticketsolve.com via their normal box office at the Library Theatre Leighton Buzzard, they have been able to sell tickets and screen four scheduled performances of their pre-recorded pantomime, via the internet directly into their audience’s homes. So it was, that I found myself sitting in my own lounge, in front of the open fire, glass of mulled wine in hand, ‘casting’ a film from my phone onto my television on a cold Saturday afternoon in January.

The filming of this was very cleverly done with each of the actors filmed separately, so each appeared on their own screen, which meant quite a few monologues and plenty of opportunity for wonderfully outrageous and, as required of panto, over the top performances. Where dialogue between the characters was required in the same location, two screens side by side did a splendid job, and even worked when they were interacting with props. Three scenes come to mind as examples and particularly outstanding pieces of timing: one where toilet rolls were thrown from one character to another, a custard pie in the face and the other where a sword fight took place across two screens, blow by blow in perfect harmony! How on earth they coordinated that with such perfection I am still scratching head over…? Somebody in LBDG must have a background in film production and a deep knowledge of the trickery of modern film making. Absolutely stunning!

Carl Russell, a man whose direction of quirky NODA Award winning plays has kept me entertained over the years, it turns out is more than slightly proficient at graphic art, as his company, Carl Russell Art designed and produced some superb backgrounds to each scene, Sherwood Forrest, Nottingham Castle etc. Good enough to rival any actual backcloths used in traditional live panto.

Add to that the familiar names of Dave Miles and Tom Davies on light and sound and you knew this was going to be high quality stuff indeed!

And of course, to finalise the scenes we had an amazing array of OTT panto costumes supplied by Admiral Costumes and coordinated by the very experienced Sheena Ward. Hats off also to make up Design Artist Emma Ashwell who had to coordinate all that grease paint and powder virtually!

Jim Fowler’s plot was thoroughly up to date and absolutely on the money with regard to filming this production with social distancing in mind.  It is best summed up from their own website:
‘Robin of Loxley has returned from the crusades to discover Nottingham is in lockdown. The Sheriff of Nottingham has taken advantage of the situation, dictating new rules to the people of Sherwood: ‘Wash Your Hands – Pay Your Taxes – Or Get a Smack in the Gob.’ He is also hatching dastardly plans to kidnap Maid Marion in an attempt to capture the elusive Robin Hood. Meanwhile, Hood’s Merry Men are on furlough and the only ones available to help Robin foil the Sheriff’s plans are Alan a Dale, Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett.’ Add in the fact that The Sheriff and his men had hoarded all the toilet rolls and our scene was set.

As I said earlier the scope for some wonderful monologues from our actors was not passed up and chief amongst them was Rob Taylor who played the Sheriff of Nottingham in the style of the late great Alan Rickman straight out of ‘Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves,’ complete with matching wig. You could not get better. He was brilliantly supported by his two gormless guards, Nosher played by Ann Kempster and Bosher played by Russell Bennett. Close up filming allowed them to come out with some superbly funny facial expressions.

Maid Marion was played by Naomi Delamore and with Robin and the Sheriff around was nobody’s easy pushover. Another splendid characterisation.  

Hannah Rourke – who seems to get better and better with each production – was our dashing hero, Robin, and certainly seemed able to make the best of this new media to the group.

Our Dame, Nursie was, against gender tradition, played by Caroline Page who somehow managed to put across all the traits of her male counterparts of campness and over the top acting required of the part. A revelation and a very high class performance.

Our motley crew of Merry Men was a whole play in its own right. Mark Croft as a larger-than-life Little John. Colin Aldous was every bit the epitome of Friar Tuck with some wonderful facial expressions. Alan A Dale played by Pete Bellamy and Will Scarlet played by Patrick Hardman both put unique characterisations into their parts with total conviction.

And then finally we had the perfect Newsreader, Tracey Chatterley and everybody’s favourite character, Etta the Dog!

This was, from a production point of view a one-woman show being produced, directed and edited by the very talented Jo Taylor, who was probably on the learning curve of her life. I can’t praise her enough for her spirit of adventure and courage for taking on such a task, which has of course never been done before in such unprecedented circumstances. With little tricks like putting the comical outtakes under the cast list at the end this was a very high-class production indeed.

A mention must be made of Publicity Manager Tony White, whose task of getting this show into living rooms certainly didn’t lack effort and enthusiasm. A trip to the group’s Facebook page is well worth while, where you will see loads of photos, complete with speech bubbles and videos, including one from the director herself talking about the challenges of the production and what the actors had to do to adapt to the new media, will show you exactly what I mean! Nice job Sir!

I obviously hope that my visit in 2022 will be to the Library Theatre, but this virtual production was indeed a critical and technical success and so, well done to Jo and her entire cast and crew, I can only image the amount of work and research involved in bringing this off. Well done indeed! If nothing else precedents for such techniques have now been set with a very high bar indeed!  Hopefully they will eventually release it on YouTube. It’s a masterclass in what to do when faced with impossible odds of ever-changing Government restrictions. And most importantly of all, the fireside mulled wine was the perfect accompaniment!