Robin Hood has arrowed its way into Dunstable this festive season, but will you be among his Merry Men if you shell out to see the Grove Theatre’s panto?
“Neighbours, everybody loves good neighbours...” but despite the lyrics, Aussie soap star Alan Fletcher (aka Neighbours’ Dr Karl Kennedy) takes on a distinctly nasty persona as the lead role in Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood (to give it its full title).
He’s played the role of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham before and he revelled in his responsibility as chief baddie.
As the Aussie actor was jeered for the first time he retorted rather humorously: “I didn’t come 1,600km to be booed that badly!”
A golden rule of panto is never buy a seat for the first few rows if you’re of a nervous disposition.
That’s because there’s guaranteed to be some poor person picked out from the audience to be victimised for the next two hours.
In this instance it was a chap called Heath for not shouting “Hiya Billy” enthusiastically enough.
After being ordered to give it another go under a spotlight, he was allowed a brief break before being utilised in a daredevil game of target practice involving blindfolded Little John (X Factor’s Andy Abraham) who rattled off a string of arrows from his bow.
The star of the show - complete with clingfilm underpants - was Silly Billy Scarlett, aka ventriloquist Steve Hewlett.
He confessed he found Robin Hood (Eleanor Sandars) “stangely attractive”, and couldn’t quite understand why Robin wasn’t wearing trousers.
On Steve’s arm was dummy Friar Tuck who was shot in head by an arrow from the Sheriff, but never fear folks, this is panto, and there’s always a way to overcome such an inconvenience.
Silly Billy was also involved in a hilarious scene involving Nurse Nellie (Peter Brad-Leigh) where the pair were galloping along on inflatible horses. Nellie’s inevitably deflated and he ended up with his trousers around his ankles and a warning from Billy that the RPSCA was in row 10.
The panto was full of super songs such Life’s A Happy Song (from The Muppets), Jailhouse Rock, Everybody Needs Somebody, plus many more – taking advantage of the undoubted talent of Fairy of the Forest Anna Kumble (90s pop star Lolly) and Andy Abraham (The X Factor).
And you couldn’t have a Robin Hood show without squeezing in the Bryan Adams song Everything I Do, I Do It For You (from the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves).
This was performed by Panto Factor winners Eleanor Sandars (Robin Hood) and Holly-Anne Hull (Maid Marian). And it was a tribute to them that they slotted seamlessly into the show - especially given their key roles in the production.
The Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life sing-a-long ghost routine was a bit tired - but this was my third panto of the week and the rest of the audience seemed to lap it up.
Something far more original was the 12 Legged Dancing Man’s mating dance, which was performed brilliantly given the potential for it to go horribly wrong in a tangle of legs.
I don’t think I’m ruining it for those of you thinking of seeing this panto to reveal that the Sheriff comes unstuck in the end.
Ultimately, it’s decided to stick him in a dark and lonely place where no-one will ever seen him... there followed a witty jibe about Neighbours being broadcast on Channel 5 these days.
The one-liners came thick and fast - in fact, thicker and faster than any panto I’ve seen in recent times.
Inevitably some were great, some were predictable and many were cringworthingly bad - and even had an accompanying drum sound effect to almost emphasis the naffness.
While at times it feels a bit like panto by numbers - ticking all the boxes you’d expect to be ticked without offering too many shocks or surprises (where were the water guns, or the running about among the audience?), the vast majority of onlookers seemed more than happy with this festive fare.
Robin Hood has taken aim - and hits the bullseye for its target audience of family’s looking for a holiday season treat.
The show runs until January 4. Box office: 01582 602080.