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Twang!! Union Theatre

April 18, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 16th April 2018)

Merrie England, where even Merrier Men are dealing with their leader who has, to put it politely, lost his “twang” at a most inopportune moment. The Sherriff of Nottingham is Perpetually Punishing Poachers, and joining with Sir Guy to egg evil Prince John into ever-greater excesses of taxation and misogyny. Can Robin pull himself together, pull his bow to win the contest and, most important of all, pull Maid Marian before she ends up spliced to a maniac?

This re-worked fabled Lionel Bart 1965 flop takes a frequently hilarious 2 hours 20 minutes to reach the obvious answers. Julian Woolford and Richard John have scraped together the remains of the original show – such as they are – stirred in some new old Bart favourites and hung the whole on a simple story stitched through with tongue-in-cheek laughs and literally “camp” humour.

A two-tier Justin Williams and Jonny Rust set gives us castle or woodland encampment at the swish of a curtain, while Penn O’Gara manages both fun “period” (with a contemporary nod or three – nice tights) costumes and an ingenious Ugly Scotsman. Under Henry Brennan, Nick Anderson and James Hudson form a useful pit-band, helped out on occasion as required…

To a noble and peasant, the gang on stage are high-energy, a tightly drilled crew under director Bryan Hodgson, with timing, dance and acting talent making the very most of the lavish Sasha Regan production. Qudos Pantomimes need look no further than this cast for all its 2018 seasonal casting needs.

Robin Hood (Peter Noden) is very much a nominal leader. Probably in control never, yet always retaining the loyalty of his outlaws and audience alike. Confidant Little John (Christian Lunn) hides his exasperation with friendly goodwill and outstanding stage presence.

Campest in camp Will Scarlett (Kane Verrall) is more than a nod to a Jamie everybody is talking about, and will by rights end up there, hopefully soon. Alan-A-Dale (James Hudson) may be a rotten lyricist, but is a talented guitarist and likeable actor too.

Friar Tuck (Louie Westwood) endures the oft-repeated schoolboy joke about his name with good humour, and brings even more to a difficult patter-number.

Newcomer to the gang Much (Joe Rose) is all innocence but ‘gets with the program’ by the end,

and handles romance rather better than the esteemed leader, but all measures.

In this story, the ladies are, frankly, as unruly as the gents.
Marian (Kweeva Garvey) is a maid best untrifled with – her grasp of self-defence is as strong as her singing voice. Her posse of frustrated Ladies – Elphaba (Victoria Nicol – facially expressive enough to cut steel without words required) and Dolly (Francesca Pim – excited to a point requiring either medication or therapy) are hilarious, and thier attendant love-lorn Delphina (Jessica Brady) a lucky catch for Much; warm and gifted with instinctive light timing.

On the dark side, Prince John (Lewis McBean) takes a “Hamilton” approach with more success than the original. Sir Guy (Ed Court) manages creepy without insidious.

Sherriff of Nottingham (Christopher Hewitt) makes his professional debut in this show, his confidence growing throughout the performance. If by the end of the run he can bring his later energy to bear on his earlier scenes, he’ll be doing outstandingly well.

Not forgotten either are Dance Captain Micah Holmes, who not only keeps everybody moving but has the best exit jump to watch for. Chris Draper in the Ensemble shines when giving his touch of Wales,

and Hob of the Hill (Stephen Patrick) is perhaps the most interesting character in the whole show. A sprite with his own language, quite possibly the main Joan Littlewood invention still left in the piece, and all the better for it.

There are faults. Woolford and John arguably still have work they can do to lift this from hilarious to unforgettably absurd. The slightly unoriginal, but vitally helpful, musical theatre parodies have room to be expanded; and there are numerous opportunities for extra contemporary one-liners that could well polish and lift further the odd moment.

Much of the original music isn’t strong either.

“Silver Arrow” is perhaps the stand-out, “Welcome to Sherwood Forest” passable thanks to staging. It’s the interpolation of a few hits that keeps that end up, and provides one of the stronger “thorough jokes” too.

In short, this is the kind of rarity that Union Theatre fans rely on their favourite venue to provide, and that anyone who has ever bought a cast album should be seeking out. Not only a little bit of musical theatre history made to feel fresh, but a talented team making new theatre history themselves in this right blast, set in the past.


Five Stars for their efforts, for sure.



Photo credit: ©Anton Belmonté. Used by kind permission.

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