THE biggest and possibly only test for a pantomime is whether or not the kids get it. If they don’t the production team needs to go back to the drawing board and I’m afraid that’s what needs to happen with Robin Hood at the Oxford Playhouse.
The sad fact is that for all the energy and inventiveness in this retelling of the Robin Hood story, the younger members of the audience weren’t engaged and far more often than not had to be led to the trough by their parents shouting out the “Boos” and “Behind-Yous”.
Make no mistake, a lot of work and talent has gone into this show. The songs are excellent and frequent. They follow the modern trend of demanding professional musical performances from the cast and they deliver. It used to be that the music in a panto was an afterthought but it has become a strength in recent years, especially at Oxford where their Cinderella two years ago broke new ground in excellence.
It’s the rest of Robin Hood that’s the problem. There’s a cleverness and knowingness about it which is offputting. It includes unfunny and unthought-through political gags which are lost on the children and too elementary for the adults.
Sadly, the characterisations don’t always live up to the pantomime ideal: Guy of Gisbourne is supposed to be scary but doesn’t quite bring it off, the Sheriff of Nottingham should be evil incarnate but is played as a camp villain and no one is threatened.
On the upside, Will Scarlet and Little John are a treat as the panto-jesters, and Robin Hood and Maid Marian give fine singing and acting performances — Jos Vantyler’s Robin also performs some exciting circus tricks including a tightrope walk and a rope-flydown.
It’s still a good panto and better than most of the celebrity-led shows are likely to be. But Cinderella set the bar very high and this year they haven’t reached it.
Robin Hood is at the Oxford Playhouse until January 12. Box office: 01865 305305