With the prolific Ben Crocker at the helm, there was never any doubt that Robin Hood & the Babes in the Wood was going to be a surefire hit. This year, there will be over 200 productions of Crocker's pantomimes performed all over the world, so the Roses was fortunate indeed to have him return as writer and director for the fifth time.
A strong all-round cast ensured that this traditional tale of good triumphing over evil held the audience captive throughout the two-hour show. Matt Beveridge plays our hero Robin Hood to perfection - swashbuckling, gallant and just a little bit 'cocky', a trait that leads him into the arms of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, played with great gusto by Jeffrey Harmer. Robin's band of merry men are led by Friar Tuck, strongly played by Ben Eagle, who should be comfortable in the role as he played 'Tucky' in the Chipping Norton panto last year. There's a little twist in the usual line-up with feisty Charlotte Chalkey playing Little Joan, daughter of Little John, who we learn had perished at the hands of the villainous Sheriff, and she is eager to avenge her father's death. True to the traditional tale, Robin falls in love with Maid Marion, very nicely played by Rachael Henley. As usual, a good proportion of the the laughs centred around the dame, and J.J Henry's Winnie Widebottom was on song all night. As well as the comic turns, there was a good deal of audience participation, not just through the usual sing-along and having selected children on stage (very entertaining!). At one point, we were encouraged to throw 'rocks' at the Sheriff and his sidekick Dennis (Michael Watson-Gray) and then we had to try to send large inflatable 'boulders' right down the auditorium onto the stage to try to knock down the door to release the captive Maid Marion. Great fun! The song and dance routines were pleasing, but by no means the best I've ever seen, but you can't have it all, I suppose. And Ben Crocker might have missed one little trick by omitting to include a "behind you" in the pantomime. "I've never been to a panto where there hasn't been a 'behind you'," I heard one senior member of the audience say as we were leaving. But all in all, it was another fun show and one I'm sure will leave Tewkesbury audiences happy throughout the festive season. Robin Hood & the Babes in the Wood runs at The Roses until Saturday, January 7.