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“Robin Hood & The Babes in the Wood”

The 2019 Hempstead panto, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, was staged over three performances on 6-7 December.

As the name suggests, the plot was a blend of two traditional tales, with the Sherwood Outlaws deployed to rescue the Babes from the clutches of their wicked uncle, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who was plotting to bump them off in order to secure their inheritance.

A genial Friar Tuck (Jules McCarthy) acted as warm-up man and general plot link, assisted by Joan (Francesca Frainer). Outlaw and wandering minstrel Alan-a-Dale (Paul Frainer) provided narrative and continuity, helped by a charming pair of rabbits (Sofia Frainer and Edie Norris) who popped back into their burrows whenever danger threatened. Other children (Elizabeth McCarthy, Robina and Joe Pollitt, Elliot and Heidi Baker and Francesca Dymond) played a variety of roles including Outlaws, castle guards and the young nephew and niece).

Robin Hood (Helen Midgley) was a cheerful, thigh-slapping Principal Boy who led the Outlaws in acts of “instant wealth redistribution” while deftly ensuring that all the children remembered their lines and made the right exits and, at the same time, managing to fall in love with Maid Marion (played with great humour and sensitivity by Anna-May Long).

James Nicholson reprised his now familiar role as the Dame, getting lots of laughs and providing the link between the two plots as the children’s governess Winnie Widebottom. He also demonstrated a very fine singing voice in the touching solo lullaby Hushabye Mountain, which held the audience spellbound.

Wickedness was provided, in large doses, by the splendid Nigel Smith as the evil, mustachioed Sheriff/Uncle, channelling both Terry-Thomas and Mr Hyde. Fawning creepily over Maid Marion (who graphically displayed her disgust in asides that delighted the younger members of the audience) he attracted more than his fair share of boos and hisses. He was very well supported by the delightful Mark Dymond, who brilliantly played the dim-witted but kindly steward Dennis.

Highlights of the evening for this reviewer were Helen’s splendid recovery after dropping her sword in the big entrance; Nigel and Mark’s song and dance routine We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be; and Anna-May’s cries of “Get off me, you great brutes” as she was dragged away to the One-Doored Tower of Doom by her children Heidi (5) and Elliot (7).

This was a thoroughly enjoyable production, ably directed by Daniela Karsten with support from maestro Paul Davies and various members of the Boreham, Davies, Frainer, Hoar, Norris, Pollitt, Karsten, McCarthy and McNeil families.

A perfectionist might say that some of the scene changes were a bit clunky and a few cues less than razor sharp, but this is village panto and all the more enjoyable for that. If anything else went wrong, only the cast will know about it: the audience were far too busy hissing, cheering, singing and generally having a good time.

As someone who has seen (albeit at second hand) how much effort the whole team put in over months of rehearsals and three performances, I think we can say that HDS is in great shape.

Many thanks to all involved for a great show.

Ross Midgley

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