...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Day 2560: A Trip to Pantoland


Last Saturday actually, and Uncle Alan treated my daddies and me to a trip to the Old Vic, where Ms Sandy Topsywig presented us with the King's Magnificent Balls... and the all the rest of "Cinderella".

Meanwhile, while we were out, the recorder was recording the conclusion of the second series of Robbing Hoodie: a double-parter (or two episodes bunged together) of "A Good Day to Die" and another trip to a faraway land in "We Are (not in the third series of) Robin Hood".

Let me just say this: only one of these productions had CONVINCING BACKDROPS!

Cinders was a magnificent production, with some marvellous acting (and occasional stripping!) from a cast very familiar to watchers of TV's Doctor Who, featuring no less than Queen Victoria as the Fairy Godmother, Foon van Hoff as the Wicked Stepmother, Mr Phillips the Bursar as King Neville, and Alan Maria-from-Sarah-Jane's-Dad (known forevermore as "Sarah's Mum" – we know why!) as Prince Charming. Though to be fair, the biggest part in the show – and the tightest trousers – belonged to Mr Paul Keating as Buttons, who had previously played Seymour in "The Little Shop of Horrors". Daddy Alex took me to meet them all at the Stage Door afterwards, while Daddy Richard hid under a nearby car for some reason [R: shyness!].

The songs were very jolly, if occasionally a little difficult to make out all the words, with PARTICULAR favourites being the Ugly Sisters' duet "Ladygirls" and Prince Charming's number on how he hates parties. There was also a funny song from Cinderella, describing her perfect BOYFRIEND… and Buttons singing "mine's just the same". (Well, it's that sort of production.)

The script was probably not QUITE as witty as you would have expected it to be, coming as it did from the pen of Mr Stephen Fry – Ms Topsywig's aside (was it scripted?) after one of the DOOBLE-EST of ENTENDRES: "Oh, you can just hear the wit of Stephen Fry pouring through" The inclusion of several rather duff groaners (which often didn't even raise a groan) was perhaps a little misjudged, though the audience loved many of the more ERUDITE gags.

"I 'ave an 'eadache," says the wicked Stepmother at one point.

"Oh, take a couple of aspirants," replies Ms Topsywig.


Yes, all right, it took the audience a moment to get it too!

Funniest moment, it must be said however, was definitely not of Mr Fry's... see in a moment!

All the traditions of pantomime were there to be played with: hissable ugly sisters; audience participation (everyone shout "Cake!" whenever "Cake" is said on stage); a sing-a-long... with actions; a pantomime cow (yes, I KNOW there isn't a pantomime cow in "Cinderella"); a magical transformation; some of the kiddies invited up on stage...

Oohh, the kiddies on the stage. They say: never work with CHILDREN or ELEPHANTS! Two little girls from near the front ("how can you not know Fortnum & Masons?" asks Ms Topsywig, "I plucked you from the best seats!") were asked to come and help Buttons prepare lunch for the entire family. Out of the hamper comes chicken and eggs and pasta and gentleman's relish (Ms Topsywig made a joke about gentleman's relish being Buttons's favourite which went right over my fluffy head!).

"That's all a bit BORING," says Buttons, "what can we add to our food to make it taste better?"

"Sugar!" says little girl number one.

Audience howls with laughter.

"Riiiiight," says Buttons picking up the large SALT POT. "Well, here's my SUGAR SHAKER!"

"Oh, well recovered," says Ms Topsywig.

"And what else can we add?" asks Buttons, reaching for the Pepper Mill.


"Honey!" says little girl number two.

Audience dissolves into ANARCHY.

The role of Cinderella herself was played with SIMPERING GOODNESS by Madeleine Worrall. As Daddy Alex and Uncle Alan discussed, it is DIFFICULT these days, to believe in a character who is MEEK and VIRTUOUS. Daddy referred to the recent BBC adaptation of "Oliver Twit" where Oliver is not the saintly, prayerful little wuss of the book, but made over into a believable if modern cheeky scamp... thus making him just like all the other boys and leaving the viewer perplexed as to why he has so cataclysmic an effect on Nancy. For his Cinders, Mr Fry takes an entirely other approach, having her played exactly as good and true as ever, but with a Fairy Godmother who comments to the audience on just how SOPPY and WET Cinders is being.

The Fairy Godmother herself came jolly close to stealing the show (as did the singing MICE!) with her knowing winks and fourth-wall-shattering Mockney asides to the audience. "Heveryone's ha wonderin' 'ow we're goin' to do this!" she says as she stands over a ME-sized plastic pumpkin (i.e. large but not nearly large enough to be a carriage).

(No I won't spoil it!)

All that needs to be said is that it all ends happily: Prince Charming marries Cinderella; Buttons marries Dandini (well it's that sort of production); and the Narrator marries the Wicked Stepmother. For all of her huge moustache (in fact, Ms Topsywig performs the entire pantomime in Mr Stephen Fry) this means that, as Daddy Alex pointed out, we finish with three couples: two men, two women and two who are one of each. How happy-making is that?

Probably more than the conclusion of Robbing Hoodie. Last year, the Sheriff managed to round out the first season by committing High Treason in front of witnesses. How to top that? Well, how about shooting the King in the back with an arrow! Last year, they decided to kill off Lady Marion... and then raise her from the dead. How to top that? Well how about just killing her?

The first of the two episodes – which, despite the hundreds of mercenaries and the Sheriff, Guy and Marion actually visiting new locations, manages to LOOK like they were trying to save money by having Robin's Gang just hang out in a barn all week – is obviously there to resolve any unfinished plotlines through the power of TALKING. So, Alan a Dale makes up his mind to turn back to the Light Side; Little John is finally given some acting to do; and D'jaq and Will Scarlett decide that they are in LURVE. (That's not COMPLETELY out of left field: it's been hinted at before, though the idea of some sort of rivalry between Alan and Will over D'jaq has been tossed aside.) Much manages to get a lot of justifiable anger off his chest. (Speaking of chests, my Daddies were both MOST disappointed that Robin did not keep his promise that he would be getting his top off more this year than last – that would be in fact FEWER times than last year. When he took it off ONCE.) Finally, Robin confesses that he's not able to kill people because it was all just too TRAUMATIC what he saw in the Holy Land. Sigh: Paging Doctor COD! Paging Doctor COD!

Part the other sees everyone off to the local sandpit (and ooh, look they've all got nice sandy-beige combats on) for a game of Crusaders. It turns out that D'jaq is actually terribly well connected, and not at all in trouble for (a) not wearing a veil at all and (b) hanging around without a chaperone with a group of men not related to her. Still, Robin is chums with the King of England.

Richard Coeur d'Lion, though, has clearly been spending TOO MUCH TIME IN THE SUN, as his brain has melted. Shifty chum of the Sheriff, Nasir (ho ho a reference to "Robin of Timotee"), pretends to be a messenger from Saladin to arrange a meeting with King Melty-Brain. And good King Richard agrees to sally off on his todd into the desert to meet whoever turns up. Because Kings do that ALL the TIME! I mean there's leading from the front and there's sticking your fluffy nose in the blender to see what happens!

And THEN Nasty Nasir asks for a word in private. And, because OBVIOUSLY no one who works for Saladin could be an ASSASSIN, King Melty-Brain sends his bodyguards outside. So Nasir reveals that someone Richard really, really trusts will say they are coming to protect him but ACTUALLY they're the traitor... and King Melty-Brain BELIEVES him, without ANY checking up or wanting evidence or anything. And so he sentences Robin to death and stakes him out in the middle of the desert without so much as a nice hat.

(Which obviously is a GOOD argument against the Divine Right of Kings, and possibly some sort of DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE metaphor – though they've been trying to get over that sort of thing this season.)

Quite simply, the Sheriff's plan RELIES upon the King abandoning all reason and doing exactly what the Sheriff wants... which the King then DOES – which makes you wonder why the Sheriff needs to kill him at all!

It doesn't get any better once Robin has been set free by a convenient chum and proved that the whole deal with Saladin was a COMPLETE FIB. Kingy goes off in hot pursuit of the Sheriff into a ruined town leading to the whole arrow in back thing I mentioned before.

With the King lying stricken, Sir Guy finally gets his chance to do his thing, only Marion goes and gets in his way and doesn't he just have to stab her all over again. Then everyone else turns up, so Guy misses his chance again and instead he and the Sheriff jump on a horse to do a runner, at which point two things ENTIRELY FAIL to HAPPEN. Firstly Robin ENTIRELY FAILS to go completely bonkers the way he did last time Marion was dead and so does not shoot them full of arrows at a hundred paces (despite earlier bragging that he could kill a man at a thousand paces). And second, Richard ENTIRELY FAILS to whistle up his great big army and send them to OBLITERATE the fu... gentlemen who came within centimetres of MURDERING HIM!

Now we all know that Sir Guy is DEFINITELY the best actor in Robbing Hoodie, particularly this year doing his whole "ooh, my loyalties are so divided" shtick, and also his "but really I really AM evil, bwah ha ha ha haaa" shtick, but Marion and D'jaq and Will were all the REST of the good actors. Well, D'jaq and Will, anyway… So it's a little DISTRESSING that they all seem to have said "We'll be staying in the Holy Land, ta, very much" (in Marion's case literally IN the Holy Land!).

Actually, Daddy Alex is VERY WORRIED that Marion might just come back from the dead AGAIN.

(The theory, from some people, behind this goes as follows: look, it is SO obvious that Guy's sword is stuck in the sand next to her rather than even TRYING to look like he's really got her, that maybe Guy was faking out the Sheriff again... and Robin and King Melty-Brain went along with it for a laugh and... then they buried her as a jape and... oh dear...)

Frankly it is all total CODSWALLOP. Having spent a lot of this year trying to put right the sort of things that they got so very wrong in year one, they go and blow it all with a great big lemon meringue pie of nonsense. With which they then flan the viewer in the face.

Last year, the conclusion was DREADFUL because it was all plot without consequences on top of a whole year of nothing mattering. This year, things HAVE mattered, events HAVE had consequences. The characters, particularly Sir Guy but also Marion and even, startlingly, Much have grown and changed for their experiences. There has even been a sense of an ongoing PLOT – the Sheriff's Black Knights gathering their forces and Robin trying to get the King to notice. But then they go and finish it with THIS!

Daddy Alex thinks that it's not as bad as last year: one turkey does not bring down the season. But I am not so sure! I think it it's MORE of a let down after it seemed that they were going to get it fight.

Seriously, seriously Sheriff Vasey cannot possibly expect to get away with this AGAIN.

"Oh, Prince John will protect him!" NO, no he won't – when Richard says "Execute Vasey" then John has to go along with it, or at the very least put the Sheriff somewhere in hiding and very much NOT back in charge in Nottingham Castle.

"You're revolting," says Marion (obviously before being deaded).

"No, a revolution is when the people rise up against their ruler. What I am doing is Coup-ing," coos the Sheriff in reply.

No, Sheriff, it's only a coup if you WIN – otherwise it's merely TREASON, and for that you get a nasty case of what Mr Charlie Brooker calls HEIGHT REDUCTION!

So that was this year's PANTOMIME. Where's the Sheriff? He's BEHIND you! Oh no he isn't! Oh yes he is! Oh good grief!

And anyway, didn't Doctor Who do this story more convincingly forty years ago?

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