The Birmingham Hippodrome takes its pantos very seriously. The budget is lavish, and that's part of why they're so amazing and worthwhile. With John Barrowman in the lead role, Dancing on Ice stars, and a t.v. ventriloquist, the cast is a sound one. It's lavish: I mentioned the Dancing on Ice stars. That's because they're there to ice skate, there on stage, in an entire ice skating sequence, complete with bubbles. The Dame had a costume change for pretty much every day he came one stage, complete with different shoes and hair. There was a turning waterwheel on stage in the opening sequence. For the finale, there were fountains with real running water. The production values are sumptuous.
it's fun: there are jokes aplenty, and all the actors really looked like they were enjoying themselves. They found some of the jokes pretty silly too, even after doing the play for so many weeks, stopping scenes for a moment to get over their laughter at a gag that was funny all over again. The Sheriff of Nottingham, the bad guy, was played by Pete Gallagher, the same actor as last year; he was fabulous evil fun.
But the problem with Robin Hood is that is has no plot; and as a consequence, it doesn't have nearly as much follow-through on its jokes as it could. Why on earth was there a baby in the first act with no followup on it in the second? Why have a character named Atchoo if there are no complicated misunderstandings along the way because of it? Why have Will Scarlet be in love in Marion, have entire scenes about his lack of girlfriend, and then not provide one for him? And, in addition, when Marion finds out, there are no consequences to it - no indecision on her part, for example? All it would have taken was one of Marion's serving maids to be a named character, and - panto logic prevailing - she would have been sufficiently characterized to solve Will's girlfriendlessness and give him his happily-ever-after. Why have the Monty Python "Camelot" number danced very nicely on a rectangular table, and then have no rectangular table jokes?
There were so many opportunities for running gags, or earned follow-up humor which this year's panto missed out on. The plot was a case of "something happens, people do something in response to it; something else happens, people do something in response to it, and it need not have any relationship to what happened earlier". Robin Hood and Marion fall in love at first sight, saving us the need for any kind of courtship. One of the biggest missed opportunities for both plot and humor came with the "witch" Cassandra (an extraordinary singer), who was in
Timing was an issue too. There was so much dialogue I missed because we were all doing what panto audiences are supposed to do: boo'ing the bad guy or applauding a good song. Timing! Plan to stop speaking and let us do these things!
Despite my extensive listing of frustrations, they were, in the scheme of things, minor enough not to mar the fun of bubbles, glitter, ice skating, silliness, fun songs, and wacky hijinks. I do like a good panto. Last year's was better, but this was still pretty good.