Robinson Crusoe, devised by Michael Harrison with additional material by Les Dennis and Andy Ford,
Theatre Royal Plymouth till 3 January 2021;
Running Time – 75 minutes – No interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – 15 DECEMBER 2020
This will be an unusual review. Given the circumstances of life in December 2020 I am taking into account the whole experience of this visit to the theatre after over 10 months. I make no apology for what follows.
You don’t need me to tell you that we have been living in strange times. Indeed you don’t need anyone to tell you. Glimmers of hope are on offer here and there, but just as life seems to be returning to a semblance of normality, further changes to our routines and lives take place.
I last visited the Theatre Royal Plymouth in March for the production of ‘An Inspector Calls’, the last production in the main house until the opening of this pantomime. Although I was able to get to The Minack Theatre in the October – a wonderfully invigorating experience – sitting in a local theatre indoors has been unavailable till now.
Throughout the pandemic, theatres have been on the edge, including this one. Thankfully funding via the Government has provided a lifeline – but it is audiences that are needed. New rules are in place, new protocols in action and amendments to performances implemented.
The buzz of the foyer at TRP is not there at the moment. On entry – pending your temperature check – you are gently fast-tracked to your seats by a cohort of patient, friendly and well organised staff. Shown to your selected seats, with spaces empty either side of you, the feeling is definitely unusual.
As the audience awaits the start, it is quiet, expectant, but on edge. Masked and aware of everyone around you, it doesn’t feel as relaxed as it should be.
The show begins…..and soon we know we are back where we belong. We are laughing, smiling, admiring and enjoying ourselves as we should be.
So, on with the show. Noting it has been ‘devised’ rather than written gives the clue to what will be a creation of routines and songs with the aim of providing entertainment without the need for too much plot – Daniel Defoe it is not. But it matters not. References to the pandemic abound, but they are well placed and appreciated by everyone.
For years we have seen elaborate, over the top, extravaganzas which have filled theatres up and down the country, produced by a company for whom excess seems the watchword. Not so here. The production is scaled-down. A couple of simple, but very attractive, sets; just one costume for the main characters; small cast – artfully social-distanced throughout; special effects kept to a minimum. And do you know what? It is far better for it – nothing more is needed.
Jennie Dale kicks the action off with her belting voice as the wicked Pirate Queen – she has to battle a little to be heard at the start but the sound balancing was soon rectified. Her nemesis is the Spirit of the Ocean, a delightful performance from Emily Beth Harrington, another possessor of an excellent singing voice.
Local favourite, Andy Ford, can play the ‘silly billy’ character in his sleep – his performance is played, as ever, at full tilt and with enthusiasm and energy. It is just what the audience wants. Les Dennis is a genial and rather understated Mrs Crusoe, but his ability to communicate with the audience demonstrates the skills acquired as a stand-up comedian. Along with Connor McIntyre as Captain Cockles – Mrs Crusoe’s love-interest – these three indulge in two routines which are pure panto and quite brilliant (if maybe a little too long – but who cares!) A tongue-twisting sequence leads too some unfortunate (though probably deliberate) errors which are hilarious. This is followed later by a story told through snippets of song – perfectly cued and brilliantly funny. Such artifice needs performers at the top of their game and these three are.
Simon Webbe has immense stage presence as Robinson and he puts his wonderful voice to good use in a number of simply staged songs. Charlotte Haines, likewise, offers a lovely performance as Polly Cockles.
The ‘crew’ of the Jolly Janner ship are on hand to provide some extra entertainment and in The Timbuktu Tumblers we have a real spectacle. Acrobatics of great skill and limbo dancing under flames is entirely incidental to the ‘story’ but it is visually stunning and exciting – wonderful.
The cast is completed by a trio of Magical Mermaids – Rebekah Bryant, Rachel Flynn and Leah Godbold who are the delightful chorus throughout.
Songs are well chosen and the small band, under Michael Bradley, make an excellent sound.
Jonathan Kiley directs the show with a light touch and allows the comic skills of Messrs Dennis and Ford to shine brightly.
In 75 minutes the show is done and dusted and the audience felt more than a little satisfied to have been royally entertained.
The final song in the show is a poignant number about ‘Pantoland’ – it is not difficult to discern the passion on stage from the performers in this tribute to a genre they love. The after-curtain words of Les Dennis, thanking the audience for supporting theatre, are, likewise, from the heart.
I was left full of emotion.
The Theatre Royal Plymouth have had to make some tough decisions this year and the future was not looking good for this great venue. The woods are not a distant memory yet, but there is more hope than there has been.
I want to praise the theatre for the sheer organisation and professionalism they have displayed in dealing with the current situation. Everything has been done to try and make people feel safe and allow them to enjoy theatre once again.
Ok, this is not the greatest show on earth, but it is a show – and it is done really well and it does what it is meant to. Entertain and relax and offer hope.
I urge people to support all those involved in this production and buy tickets now. Robinson Crusoe is another shot in the arm that we all need right now!
THE PIRATE QUEEN – JENNIE DALE
THE MAGICAL MERMAIDS – REBEKAH BRYANT, RACHEL FLYNN, LEAH GODBOLD,
THE SPIRIT OF THE SEA – EMILY BETH HARRINGTON
BILLY CRUSOE – ANDY FORD
MRS CRUSOE – LES DENNIS
CAPTAIN COCKLES – CONNOR MCINTYRE
ROBINSON CRUSOE – SIMON WEBBE
POLLY COCKLES – CHARLOTTE HAINES
THE CREW OF THE JOLLY JANNER – THE TIMBUKTU TUMBLERS
DIRECTOR – JONATHAN KILEY
CHOREOGRAPHER – PAUL ROBINSON
LIGHTING DESIGN – ALEX MARSHALL
SOUND DESIGN – CHRIS WHYBROW
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – MICHAEL BRADLEY