Jill Quick photo Jenn Lane and Samantha Silver play Robin and Marion.

White Rock Players Club’s Robin Hood offers ‘diverting travesty’

Appealing performers and silliness aplenty at panto

Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom is cheeky, irreverent, topical, grandiosely silly, appealingly cast, colourful and brimming with tunes that almost everyone knows.

In other words, the show – continuing on its merry way at Coast Capital Playhouse until Dec. 29 – has just about everything that you’d look for in a White Rock Players Club Christmas pantomime.

And for that, hats off to director/writer/lead player/musical director Dann Wilhelm and a willing cast and crew who have followed him eagerly into Sherwood Forest and returned with a bona fide hit.

There are only two real downsides to this diverting travesty of the traditional tale. One is a lengthy running time – around three hours at last Friday’s official opening night. Even though Wilhelm has packed it with engaging bits, some time could be lopped off by fast-forwarding through a few overly protracted routines and monologues.

The other liability – going by the performance I saw – was a low vocal volume during many numbers, which suggested the show either needed to be miked or the players needed to summon up at least a 50 per cent increase in projection, to put the songs over properly and be heard in the last few rows of the house.

Possibly this has been fixed by the time of this writing. Which would be good, because, although I strained to hear them, there are some very melodic voices in this show that, given a boost, could do very well indeed by the classic Beatles songs Wilhelm has chosen for the musical score (well performed in backgrounds by Hennie Wilhelm and others, and generally well-balanced by co-sound designer Tamara Rebiffe).

That choice of music – incidentally – is a wise move by Wilhelm, ensuring that many in the audience are on-side and singing along, even before they’re encouraged to, later in the show.

He also demonstrates understanding, not only of historic panto traditions, but also the unique personality of the idiosyncratic White Rock variant first championed by Franklin and Charlotte Johnson in the early 1950s. And while the show is negligibly plotted, he has provided hooks aplenty for comedy routines that hark back at least as far as Abbott and Costello.

The roles of principal boy and girl traditionally place few demands on acting chops but do require panache. In that context, Jenn Lane acquits herself well as Robin, who – though a hesitant groom in the face of obsessive wedding planning by bride-to-be Maid Marion – proves more than ready to strike a heroic pose and meet the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham in battle, whether armed with swords or the deadliest of bad jokes.

Samatha Silver invests Marion with a certain ditzy charm throughout. And she totally owns a cheerfully surreal moment when – although technically imprisoned in a dungeon – she is handed a guitar from the wings and accompanies herself impressively in a rendition of Blackbird, as puppet blackbirds perch on a castle windowsill behind her.

Bryce Mills seems to get better and surer each year as White Rock’s resident ribald, audience-scoping Dame, and generates so much good clean ‘dirty’ fun with this year’s incarnation – the oddly hirsute fairy/minstrel Alana Dale – that one can forgive a meandering line or two.

As distracted as he must have been overseeing other areas of this production, it doesn’t show in Wilhelm’s performance as the Sheriff. He’s thoroughly assured in the role, providing authoritative panto-style villainy and projecting his songs with professional flair – but giving it all a twist of dry humour in keeping with the overall tenor of his writing.

Reginald Pillay is equally delightful as a dense and unexpectedly ‘innocent’ King John – easily manipulated in the Sheriff’s scheme to bring the Skytrain to Sherwood Forest – while energetic Erin Mulcahy and unabashedly goofy Romeo Kabanda earn their laughs as the Sheriff’s idiotic henchmen George and Ringo (don’t ask).

Indeed, one of the successes of this show is the way it blends veteran panto performers with fresh faces equally willing to embrace the silliness – something that offers great hope for the future of the White Rock tradition.

Greg Turner (as an impressively looming, but thoroughly likable Little John), Ferne Brown (as a clumsy, well-meaning Much the Miller’s Son), William Duncanson (an amusingly cunning Friar Tuck), panto veteran Ray Van Ieperen (in typically shaky, spindle-shanked form as Will Scarlet) and Adrian Shaffer (as the somewhat weak-stomached Gilbert Whitehand) all make the most of good opportunities to play up their character traits, particularly in some nicely judged comedy as they practise their wiles on hapless aristocrats who’ve wandered into the forest.

As their appropriately ludicrous victims Lord Nose, Lady Googoo, Lord Coe, Lady Andatramp and Lord Uvda Rings, Ava Harvey, Cecilia Peralta, Janelle Carss, Jacquie Schindel and Tina Shaw, respectively, also show great comedic promise in what might have been throw-away roles.

Group numbers and harmonies are well-sung, and everyone in the cast – including the bright new faces of the junior chorus (future stars, all) – is conscientious about following moves given them by choreographer Sierra Milne, including a blacklight number.

Amara Anderson’s evocative panto-style costumes (including a traditional finale change for the leads) and Andrea Olund’s set (kudos to painters Olund, Elizabeth Hollick, Sara Talbot, Jennifer Georgeadis, Sasha Dupre and Denise Tomyn) – well-lit by Angela Bell – provide all the colour and sparkle one could ask for in a show of this kind.

Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom runs until Dec. 29 at Coast Capital Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd. (info, tickets 604-536-7535).

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