From Shakespeare to Panto - writing Robin Hood

We took on this year’s Ludlow Assembly Rooms panto, Robin Hood, at short notice and thought that a way to make it really work was to write a completely new script and bring the story to Ludlow, with lots of local references and jokes. Robin Hood and his Merry Men are now on holiday in Mortimer Forest…but the Sheriff of Nottingham has had the same idea and is now lodged in Ludlow Castle with Maid Marion and his mum Deirdre! There are other Robin Hood type myths around the country and that feels legitimate.

Animal magic

Rooftop Theatre Company grew from performing a series of short plays written by our workshop tutor and fine actor, George Pensotti, at the City Lit Institute in Central London. We performed edgy tales of urban animal life on the rooftop of the old building. The productions all had a moral story, were physical and very funny, remaining real throughout whilst involving a multitude of talking animals. The scripts became increasingly tailored to suit the temperament and skills of the actors enrolled on the course. Simon seemed to spend a lot of the time as a very angry farmer with a very big gun… Adapting the acting techniques that George taught - physicality, projection and energy - has been invaluable in approaching Shakespeare and bringing his words to life - they will be crucial in Panto too.

George wrote the plays in a format that Simon has found useful ever since: short scenes cut backwards and forwards between various groups of characters, each character speaking in turn in a cycle that recurrs throughout the scenes. This makes things easy to co-ordinate in rehearsals and allows each actor to build its own special character whilst promoting a story flow.

Comic capers

Keeping the plays simple with a series of set pieces made them an ideal template for primary school plays and co-incidentally Pantomimes. Simon wanted to capture the feel of reading the Beano as a kid: full of jokes that elicited a “groan” from various characters, while the adult content is full of the innocence and silliness that he loved in Morecambe and Wise. With double entendres mixed in for a bit of spice, the silliness level is rising fast, particularly with ad libbing as the rehearsals progress.

Simon wrote the Panto as far as he could to fit each individual cast member. The lead actor looks and seems to live a bit like Robin Hood (Leebotwood apparently) so that he practically wrote himself. Classic characters have been tailored to the actor playing them, bringing out their intrinsic humour and natural skills. Extra characters such as the Bunnies were a late edition that have blossomed into major cameos (if there is such a thing) and Mr Lickey is going to be a hilarious character performed with the panache of a panto pro!

As long as he held the traditional story in mind, the structure in line, and wasn’t distracted down too many streams of comic inventiveness, such as pants ironing, the script should hopefully elicit as many tears (of laughter) groans and gasps as it does for the writer and the cast.

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