Customs House cast deliver another winner as Robin Hood panto brings the MERRY to Christmas

There’s Merry Christmas and then there’s a VERY MERRY Christmas...

And Robin Hood and his band of merry men (and women) certainly deliver that as the Customs House cast serve up another slice of fantastic festive fun for all of the family.

The ‘little panto with the big heart’ has always more than held its own against big budget offerings to be found elsewhere in the region. But Robin Hood may well be the very best one the team has ever produced, thanks to outstanding contributions from both its stalwarts and new faces.

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Uprooting Sherwood Forest to Cooksonville, Graeme Thompson and Ray Spencer have penned another hilarious script. It’s pierced with rapier-sharp wit, just like Robin’s legendary swordsmanship. And the jokes and double entendres fly around the stage faster than the outlaws’ arrows. Laugh too long and you’ll miss the next one. Always very much a panto for all the ages, there’s much to amuse both young and old alike.

Robin Hood (Marcquelle Ward) and Maid Marian (Lucy Elizabeth Davis) shine on stage in the Customs House panto.

All of the debutants make a mark. Marcquelle Ward makes for a thoroughly dashing Robin, singing and dancing his way through this adventure with style and panache. Alongside him, Lucy Elizabeth Davis plays the role of fiesty heroine Maid Marian to perfection. Forget celebrities fighting to win in the jungle, she’s the absolute queen of the woods.

But perhaps the real coup for the Customs House this year is adding Alfie Joey to the mix. Best known for his regional BBC work, his love of the stage really shines through. With costume changes aplenty, he moves between the characters of Friar Tuck, Little John with no little skill – those scenes on stilts proving some of the most memorable of the evening.

And then there are the familiar faces. The stellar talent of Steven Lee Hamilton shines through once again, this time as our arch villain the Sheriff of Nottingham. So good at being bad is Steven, his musical numbers particularly sublime, that you always feel compelled to break with tradition and cheer, not boo, everything he does.

While Steven’s Sheriff is devious and develish, you could never say that about any time Davey Hopper reprises his role as the loveable, if endearingly hapless, Arbuthnot. Davey has that rare gift of just being naturally funny. I swear he could read out the timetables on an old Keppel Street bus shelter and he’d still have the crowds in stitches. His slapstick scenes with Ray will forever be comedy in its most delightful form.

Alfie Joey, playing Friar Tuck, is a great new addition to the Customs House panto alongside audience favourites Davey Hopper (Arbuthnot) and Ray Spencer (Dame Bella).

Ah, Ray. A bigger legend in Cooksonville than Robin ever was in Sherwood. The ‘eeeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhsss!’ get longer every year as Dame Bella Ballcock and her ever-extravagant dresses take centre stage. Ray remains the life and soul of these productions and the audience know it. His passion for panto, his ability to make everyone in the audience feel part of the performance remain the secrets of its ongoing success. Everything is heartfelt, everything is genuine, everything is warm and wonderful. To the supporting cast and backstage crew too, congratulations to you all.

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It’s not been the easiest of years for many of us. Indeed the cost of living crisis is rarely overlooked in the script and the barbs for some of our politicians are more cutting than the forest branches. But just for a few hours, we can forget about real life and laugh our cares away.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this show. Non-attendance? It should be outlawed…

The Adventures of Robin Hood in Cooksonville is on at the Customs House until January 7. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk for ticket details

Steven Lee Hamilton is once again outstanding as the villainous Sherrif of Nottingham.