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REVIEW: Robin Hood at North Shields Exchange

A Fab Show For The Young Families!

Robin Hood - The Pantomime
North Shields Exchange
Until Sunday 31st December 2017

Our first visit to the North Shields' Exchange venue reveals a very smart place with a charming panto that was a hit with the little kids in the audience.

The venue has a large bar area which hosts music venues & has a range of drinks at some of the cheapest prices we've seen this season. The theatre space was set up for about 120 and this leads to a more intimate experience for the younger children that made up the bulk of the audience. Seating was unreserved so an early arrival would be prudent, especially if you’re in a large group and want to sit together.

For a number of the youngsters in the audience I suspect that this will be one of their first tastes of live entertainment. Panto is really important as it can be the start of a love of theatre, music and performance. I certainly remember my first trips with my Great Grandmother and remembering how magical it felt. So it is important that the shows get it right.

This is the cheapest panto that we have been to this season and that will help bring the show into the price range of more families. The main cast of seven actors work hard to keep the audience entertained.  The outfits look great so the cost cutting seems to be down to the set with is largely made up of artwork of each location which is projected onto the screen on the back of the stage. Adding a ‘turning the page of a book’ effect helps keep the fairy tale idea going.

Each Act begins with a short dance routine from some young performers from either the Charlene Melling School of Dance, who are based in Cullercoats, or Decote Dance from Whitley Bay. We then meet up with Will Scarlet (Sadie Stewart) who lives with her mother Widow Scarlet (John Seymour). They live in a village next to Sherwood Forest and are expected to pay what little they have in taxes. Very soon The Sheriff of Nottingham (Jonathan Cash) appears with his henchman Grunt the Guard (Ben Winthorpe) to collect his dues. The Sheriff announces that he is looking forward to the arrival of the rich Maid Marian (Kathryn Sabourn) whom he plans to marry in order to make more money. Marian, however, trips over Robin Hood (Bethan Amber Carr) on her way to Nottingham Castle who robs her in order to pass the money from the rich to the poor. Later she finds out what her future husband is really like and hopes someone will come to her rescue.

There are some changes to the modern panto format by writer John Seymour and director Sarah Seymour. For starters there feels to be an effort to use new jokes rather than trot out the usual one liners. Secondly there isn’t a single comic role as both Ben Winthrop and Sadie Stewart get a share in the bulk of the funny lines. The changes don’t stop there are there is no real messy scene and the take off scene has more of a theme as Mr Dancing Fox (Sarah Seymour) puts in periodic appearances to remove the livestock rather than cast members. These changes help prevent the production from feeling too formulaic unlike some shows that we’ve seen recently.

Instead you get a show that gives more than an occasional nod to shows like Monty Python’s Spamalot as The Sheriff hops through the audience to the stage with a hobby horse and his henchman in tow with a drum. The action comes off the stage as the cast march through the audience and occasionally pick on the crowd. It was the second time I have been picked on by the Panto Dame this year! One little boy got to throw “food” at Grunt in the stocks. The lad clearly loved it and seem genuinely excited to receive a small gift afterwards. It was those magical little moments and the reactions of the kids that made this show so worthwhile.

This level of interaction continued until the very end as the cast waved good bye as they headed outside the main auditorium in order to meet everyone as they left. This is a nice touch which will leave a positive impression on the young guests.

If you’ve read all of our panto reviews you’ll be expecting a “but” around now. We enjoyed this show but we felt uncomfortable with some of the “hi-jinx” performed by the Fox on the Dame. We’re not referring to the moving of fingers into ears and noses -  there is a fine line between “funny” and normalising unacceptable behaviour.

That aside, this is a fresh panto as it tells a story which, unlike Cinderella or Aladdin, isn’t done to death at this time of the year and there is a fresh sprinkling of new jokes. Jonathan Cash’s baddie is bad but not so evil that he’ll give the younger kids nightmares. Kathryn Sabourn’s Maid Marian is suitably charming but not pathetic and helpless as can be the case in panto.  Sadie Stewart and John Seymour were good at getting the matinee crowd responding too.  Bethan Amber Carr’s Robin Hood has some insecurities but there are lessons for the kids to learn there too. Perhaps we needed to see move of Ben Winthrop’s dance and acrobatic moves though as he has a clear talent in that department?

Robin Hood is a good start for a youngster’s journey into the world of theatre – and good value too!

Remaining performances:

Sun 24th Dec 2pm
Wed 27th Dec 7pm
Thur 28th Dec 2pm
Fri 29th Dec 7pm
Sat 30th Dec 2pm & 7pm
Sun 31st Dec 2pm

Prices: Children £8    Adults £10    Family of 4 £30

Booking No: 0191 258 4111

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