The Dinnet Panto returned in glorious style this year with a hilarious re-telling of the Robin Hood story in the shape of Babes in the Wood.
It was originally to be staged last year but had to be postponed owing to cast commitments elsewhere, but what a delight to see this extremely talented group of people return to the Dinnet stage where they belong.
Under the watchful eyes of Thomas S Baxter who directed and musical directed the panto, and Neil Stewart who choreographed, Babes in the Wood burst on to the stage and the action, songs, dances and laughs never let up for the following two hours.
This talented pair also wrote the panto, no doubt borrowing from all their previous professional experience to create a show that was riotously funny from the outset and featuring all the elements that you expect in a panto including a taut story that carried the action along at a pace, visual and verbal gags galore and a series of carefully chosen songs that never came across as being shoehorned in to the plot.
In an evening of five star performances all round, Neil also found time to play the dame, Nellie Noggins, in what can only be described as a tour de force performance. From the moment he first stepped on stage to the final curtain his energy never waned he acted, sang, danced and even yodelled his way through numerous, outrageous costume changes.
The journey back to Nottingham on the back of a hay cart in Act Two was both genius in its inventiveness and hilarious in its execution. Robin Hood was played in traditional, thigh slapping panto boy fashion by Sara Henry who acted the role to perfection despite having lost her voice. Her characterisation never faltered and she was ably accompanied by Gillian Henry who made a sweet, but never saccharin, Maid Marion. The pair’s Act Two duet where they dreamed of life if they weren’t Robin and Marion was particularly effective and touching.
Further comedy came from Michael Reid as Much the Miller’s Son, Yvonne Wallace as Olive Oddbody and Stevie McNenee as Friar Tuck. All three were firm favourites with the audience and their hilarious antics during the maypole dance were a highlight of the evening as was the scene when all three were hiding out with Nellie Noggins at the Abbey of the Running Nun.
There was not just one baddie in Babes in the Wood, but four in the shape of the Sheriff of Nottingham played by Greig Baxter, Serena Cyanide played by an unrecognisable Margaret McNaught, and the Sheriff’s two henchmen, Mr Hookline and Mr Sinker played by Duncan Robertson and Steve Ewen respectively.
Margaret clearly relished the boos she elicited from the audience as the Sheriff’s mother, and Duncan and Steve showed great comedy timing especially in their slapstick scene near the end of Act Two.
All three are stalwarts of the Dinnet Panto and their experience shines through. New to the Dinnet Panto, however, was Greig Baxter who was a last minute replacement as the Sheriff of Nottingham after Matt Milne had to withdraw at the last minute owing to injury.
Despite only having a couple of rehearsals before opening night, Greig almost stole the show and certainly would have done with a less experienced cast around him. His performance was always on the right side of sinister and camp and he cajoled the audience throughout until the boos almost lifted the roof off the Dinnet Hall.
The Spirit of Sherwood was tenderly played by Jenny Cox, who helped guide the babes of the title through the woods as well as seeing that all turned out well in the end. The babes themselves were played by Nicholas Smith and Christina Cox. Both turned in confident performances that belied their years and both possessed fine singing voices. No doubt they are future leads in the making.
Supporting roles were played by Rolfe Hare as Little John, Anni Stonebridge as a butch Wilhomena Scarlet, Jenni Symon as the Medieval Today Newsreader and Sarah McKay who sang to perfection as Camilla Cloudburst, leading the company in, a camp as Christmas, It’s Raining Men.
The ensemble played their roles with great verve whether they were portraying villagers, schoolchildren, morris dancers or nuns. The ensemble consisted of Caroline Logan, Chloe Tedeschi, Taylor Roberts, Georgia Smith, Victoria Smith, Jessica McKay and Rebecca Macbeath. Their contributions were equally as important as those of the leading players and all looked as if they were having a lot of fun throughout.
It is clear that this group of talented thespians understand the importance of scenery and costumes when it comes to panto and don’t believe in scrimping on either.
It would have been easy to save a pound or two and cut back on both, but this is what sets them apart from many other panto groups. The full stage sets, a mixture of both hired and painted by themselves truly evoked their settings whether it was Nottingham Town Square, Sherwood Forest or the Abbey of the Running Nun. The costumes, of which there was an abundance were both lavish, colourful.
To misquote a well-known advert, there are pantos, and then there’s the Dinnet panto! Bravo Dinnet, we can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store when you set sail on the high seas with Sinbad next year.