Panto style at York Theatre Royal

Vince Gray as Robin Hood and Berwick Kaler as Mrs Hattie Hood in Robin Hood and his Merry Mam! - Photo by Kippa Matthews
Vince Gray as Robin Hood and Berwick Kaler as Mrs Hattie Hood in Robin Hood and his Merry Mam! - Photo by Kippa Matthews

To the unitiated it may seem puzzling as to why the York Theatre Royal’s pantomime has become so famous throughout the country.

TheTheatre Royal panto dame of the past 34 years and writer Berwick Kaler always boasts that there is no plot, the title isn’t familiar nor are the actors stars of popular TV shows.

Yet what the audience does get is a highly entertaining, appealing, amusing and polished performance, with spectacular costumes and sets, that appeals to all ages.

Oh and there area loads of laughs - at least one an hour as Kaler declares this year to a response of more chuckles.

Robin Hood and his Merry Mam you could say is based on panto classic Babes in the Wood but that is where Kaler departs.

Robin Hood, played by Vincent Gray who has appeared in eight York Theatre Royal pantos, is the hero of Hamalot. He robs from the rich and gives to the poor.

But the natives fear him as villain Sheriff Hutton (Jonathan Race) tells everyone that he steals from the poor to give to the rich.

Somewhere in among the mayhem Prince Tom and Princess Cherry are introduced and must be hidden from the bad guy.

But will Sheriff Hutton find them or will Robin Hood be able to rescue them and regain his reputation as hero?

That’s about as much plot as is needed as the rest is packed with jokes, ad-libs, brilliant costumes, slapstick, songs and dance.

Kaler who plays Hattie Hood, is definitely the big attraction but he has chosen a strong and talented cast who are equal stars.

None more so than his stalwart sidekick Martin Barrass who has broken off from West End show One Man and Two Guvnors to play Geoffrey Hood.

Another York favourite is Suzy Cooper who plays Marian and declares she is popular with dads, for some reason.

David Leonard, who regularly plays the York panto villain, is absent this year and in steps Jonathan Race who proves a more than capable bad guy.

The first act rolls along at an interesting pace as the loosely-based plot builds but works up to a hilarious second act.

The slapstick scene seemed a little tame on recent years but may reflect either health and safety or Kaler and Barrass’s advancing years. It still gained laughter from members of the audience.

Another media which has gained regular content is the film where the cast go out and about in York and shoot a scene which is then cleverly worked into the stage show.

Cast members seemed to step out of the film and straight onto the stage to great amazement and amusement.

Popular songs are used to great effect and this year it was a take on Gangnam Star which was turned into It’s Panto Style.

Thanks to Kaler, cast and director Damian Cruden, York Theatre Royal has a pantomine which is sheer genious and has become a legend with generations of families getting hooked on traditional theatre.

Robin Hood and his Merry Mam runs until Saturday February 2. Box office 01904 623568. JH