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Robin Hood. Stardust Theatre. Terry O'Toole Theatre. North Hykeham 23 March 2024

One of the highlights of my year is attending the annual pantomime performed by the wonderful Stardust Theatre. This is the third panto I have been invited to review and I was more than happy to accept the invitation because I know that every year, I will see an explosion of colour, joy and positivity on stage under the direction of playwright Kei Bailey. This year's panto was no exception. However, when I returned home from the panto I realised that I was succumbing to a bout of shingles. As a result, I was unable to write the review until now and I apologise to those who have been awaiting my musings.

The Stardust players continue to go from strength to strength. This year, with a huge cast of around 40, beautifully costumed in bespoke panto wear (a massive feat on its own!), brought their love of performing to the stage for a sell-out crowd eager to join in the fun and games. Kei Bailey's script retains al the wit and charm of his earlier work, coupled with roles written specifically for the challenges faced by this amazing group of performers. The set pieces expected in any panto are there, we have the ghost gag and the traditional baddies with some lively renditions of an array of pop standards.

The cast is headed up by Stephen Coote as Robin Hood and Beki Doughty as Maid Marion. They made a wonderful couple. Robin was fearless and heroic and Marian a plucky, feminine heroine capable of giving the boys a run for their money. Thomas Marron was the evil and slimy Sherriff of Nottingham assisted by Jeff Morris as Guy of Gisborne, and we were treated to not one, but TWO dames played by Josh Lane and Craig Parkes. Josh, in particular, was absolutely brim full of confidence and up for anything in the role.

We had a plucky band of Merry Men, with Little John played by James Southee, Friar Tuck by Rhys Smitti, Much Moore was Jason Radford, Will Scarlett was a delightfully camp character played by Stuart Wyle, Luke Warmwater was played by Shaun Roseveare, Jack Pot by Lynn Kendall and Bob Down by Linda Wilson. The Narrator and Merry Man keeping it all together as prompt and general encourager was Kei Bailey as Alan A Dale.

The traditional "Babes in the Wood" of Hansel and Gretel were played by Becky Murray and Johanna Robinson who had to contend with the evil witch , Carmella Marchpane played with relish buy Colette Buchanan-Gray. Her familiars were three cats and a crow played by Adam Fielding, William Pavitt, Henry Jackson and Courtney Brumpton. The fairies of the forest were played by Hollie Morris as Fairy April and Sue Fletcher as Fairy May.

The Sheriff's servants consisted of Patty Cake played by choreographer Paige Ruddlesdin, Peter Pickle played by Nathan Storey, Toby Jugg (Ian Mills) and Lady Apricot Crumble.(Maria Michael). Hernia Septic and her rotten family were played by Laura Davies as Hernia, Tom Kirk as Mick, Jack Strange as Nick and Duncan Tomlin as Rick. The animals of Sherwood Forest were Norah Nightingale (Lucy Baptist), Glenda Goldfinch (Zara Barrett), Chloe Cuckoo (Brianna Sprague) Wendy Wood Warbler (Beth Stokes), Olivia Owl (Rachel Pavitt), Charley Chiff Chaff (Sara Sprague), Winifred Woodpecker (Mandy Ashley) and Fiona Fieldfare (Kodie Hutchinson).

There were some truly heart-warming performances, especially from Stephen and Becki as Robin and Marion and Thomas as the Sheriff really milked the role of the baddie for all it was worth and even gave an ad-libbed bit of sass to Alan A Dale when he jumped in with a prompt. It is wonderful to see how all of these young performers have grown in confidence since performing with Stardust. Year after year, I see a growth in confidence and ability. The timing has improved and teh delivery of comic lines gets better and better, the students becoming less and less reliant on their assistants to help their confidence on stage. And to see so many new faces among the cast is also a delight.

It is a positively life-affirming experience to witness Stardust's panto every year and I would say, get ready to fight for tickets next year, as they have rapidly become the hottest tickets in town. You will not be disappointed.

Andy Evans 13 April 2024

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