It’s raining Robin Hoods in Armidale this year, with the community pantomime Robin Hood; Lost in Tights opening at the end of the month at the Armidale Town Hall and Barbara Albury’s production, Rockin’ Robin and the Hoods, at the Hoskins Theatre on December 17 & 18.
Armidale’s community pantomime Robin Hood; Lost in the Tights is a revised and localised production and opens for four performances at the Town Hall on November 26.
After working together for the last eight years, social entrepreneur Pam Menzies and well known local thespian and playwright Warren Bartik have developed a tried and true formula.
They put their heads together every second year to engage as many as possible of the city’s movers and shakers (and least experienced actors) and put them on stage to raise money for Armidale Hospital.
That means the Mayor, a couple of General Managers and Councillors, the UNE Vice-Chancellor, local MP Richard Torbay, a good sprinkling of doctors and nurses, academics, teachers, city business people and members of the community.
Pam says that at the beginning it is difficult to coax the novice actors onto the stage but after a few rehearsals, it becomes just as difficult to get them off it.
“It is such fun; they enjoy it so much and as they get more confident, they start adding bits here and there,” she says. “Once they’ve entered into the spirit of it, we have no trouble getting them back for the next production if they can spare the time.”
Who could forget Inspector Matt Lynch in a fairy dress in the first production, Peter Pan, Richard Torbay in tights in the title role and his wife Rosemary as Wendy flying high across the stage at the Old Teachers College.
“I was warned after Peter Pan that I should never wear tights again,” Torbay quips. “But in this version of Robin Hood, I become the role model – everyone wants to wear tights.”
Many veterans of that first production signed on for more, performing in subsequent performances of Alice Lost in the Tablelands and A-lad-in the Tablelands.
Armidale Hospital has benefitted to the tune of $50,000, but Pam believes there is just as much collateral in the community building aspect of the venture.
“To get all those people together to collaborate on something so totally different to their normal day to day working life is very bonding,” she says. “I always believe it is as much for the actors as the audience.”
Nevertheless, with 50 actors on stage this year, many scenes and a large off stage crew, the Panto is a logistical nightmare to organise. In the past, casts have reached as high as 80 on stage, as well as backstage crew.
It is the city’s biggest production outside university graduations, with writer / director Warren Bartik, associate director and choreographer Sue Mann, and assistant producers Narelle Marshall and Poh Woodland and many volunteers working behind the scenes to bring it together. This year Dr Robin Diebold has joined the team as co-scriptwriter.
The localised plot broadly follows the Robin Hood story, with Peter McGarry as the villainous Sheriff of Hillgrove and Council Engineer David Stellar his sidekick Sir Guy of Gostwyck. Peter Georkas plays Prince John and ADC General Manager, Shane Burns, is The Executioner. On the side of the goodies there is Mayor Peter Ducat as King Richard, fresh from the Crusades and his intended Duchess Alyse, played by Kim Bastow. Panto veteran Robin Diebold plays the Soothsayer.
Action man Robin Hood becomes a fashion statement in tights, with Guyra Council General Manager, David Cushway, as Little John, and Armidale Dumaresq Councillor, Bruce Whan, as Friar Muck, his devoted fashionista disciples. All the merry men are a tights band.
The panto starts with a weary Robin of Rockvale just returned from the Macquarie Street Crusades. He teams up with the Merry Men of the Pine Forest to battle the evil Sheriff of Hillgrove and his sidekick, Sir Guy of Gostwick, who have imposed a new charcoal tax on the hapless folk of Guyralladale.
The Sheriff has grand designs for Lady Marion, who waits patiently with her faithful maidens in Boolamimbah Castle for good men … any men … to break the shackles of a boring humdrum life under the wardship of the real estate crazed Prince John.
An obligatory archery contest lures Robin to his capture and brings new meaning to hanging out at Boolamimbah!
The big questions then become: can the Merry Men save Robin? Can Tony Kelly really catch arrows? Who is the mysterious Soothsayer? And will King Richard return in time to save the day?
You may know all the answers, but it would be a shame to pre-empt them. With just four performances on offer, this is a fun production for a good cause and not to be missed.