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Robin Hood and The Merry Men Review!
I have a confession to make. I've never been to a Cliffs panto before. I used to go to the Palace Theatre pantomime as a child, but it was very lowkey, usually with local performers, and I don't remember much about them apart from a) some pirates (of Penzance, do you know them?) grabbing my mum's necklace in the audience and little me thinking it was real, and b) my friend's dad tapping a Terry's Chocolate Orange on his son's head to crack it open.
Anyway, I rolled up to the Cliffs Pavilion on a wild, rainy Monday night with very little comprehension of what was going to unfold. I live under a rock, so I had not seen Britain's Got Talent and though I'd heard of Diversity, I'd never seen them before.
This was Robin Hood - a tale I know well for two reasons; 1) I was obsessed with the BBC's Maid Marian and her Merry Men at teatime as a kid and 2) my teacher Dad and I once wrote a version of Robin Hood for his school play. It was highly amusing*, we thought, peppered with Apprentice and Beckham gags which unfortunately date this story.
*my Mum would come downstairs to see us howling with laughter at the laptop. What's so funny? she'd ask. Oh just us, we'd say, wiping away tears.
From the second this high-budget, pyrotechnic, slick show started we could see it was West End standard. The DANCERS. The MUSICAL NUMBERS. The COSTUMES. Gina Murray played a TOWIE-style fairy, our helpful narrator for the evening, and knocked out perfect comic timing talking gels, lashes and tan but with impressive vocals on all her numbers to back it up. Jack Land Noble served Northern comic realness, at one point brilliantly referencing Bullseye for the older members of the audience. Ashley Banjo and Diversity's dancing was, of course, on point, making you want to google local street dance lessons (don't worry, I won't actually do this) and literally flipping all over the stage like they were dancing on springs.
Daniel Boys' evil baddie Sheriff of Nottingham was part Lord Farquad, part Meatloaf (no, really) and he performed my favourite number of the night while dragging captured poor Maid Marian around his dungeon like a total badass. There was even a giant... wait, no. I'm not going to spoil it. It goes a bit cray before the interval, but in a perfect goth-camp way. But the star of this show was comedian Kev Orkian as Simple Simon, the hero of this story. I cannot express how much I laughed at his pitch-perfect, howlingly funny performance. I don't even want to say what I loved about it as I don't want to spoil it, but let me just say that The Magic Flute will never sound the same again.
The writing of this panto was on point. It was so funny my face hurt from laughing. My sister and I roared so loud at a Prince Andrew joke that I think we scared the little girls sitting in front of us. There was so much content for the grown ups it was easy to forget this was for the whole family - but the booing, singalongs and 'oh no it isn't' reminded me that yes, there were children in the audience and fingers crossed they didn't get a lot of the jokes.
I did a tiny moan to my sister at the interval that Maid Marian was a bit princessy and not feisty enough - see my original point about being raised on Maid Marian and her Merry Men (this is a boy heavy story and I'm a feminist, what can I say?) but it was like the panto gods had listened and in the second act they handed Marian two swords and a knowing joke about who really saved the day.
This was fun, funny, perfectly pitched, excellenty written and with an all-star cast in my eyes. Please, for the love of Christmas, go and see this pantomime. Your face will hurt from laughing but my goodness is it worth it.
Robin Hood runs at the Cliffs Pavilion until Saturday 4 January 2020.