Stardust Review


DATE: Saturday 23rd March 2024

THEATRE COMPANY: Stardust Theatre

VENUE: Terry O’Toole Theatre, North Hykeham


PRODUCER: Sara Sprague

CHOREOGRAPHER: Paige Ruddlesdin

REVIEW BY: Julie Addison, National Operatic and Dramatic Association 

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When I was invited to review a performance of ‘Robin Hood’ by Stardust Theatre, I soon realised what a unique drama group this is. Each drama student is faced with their own personal difficulties and challenges; some are in wheelchairs or have mobility aids, but everyone has a passion for performing and being on stage. Sara Sprague and Kei Bailey have created an ethos of inclusivity providing everyone the opportunity to shine in their roles. With a wonderfully witty script written by Kei, a mash-up of the story of Robin Hood and Hansel and Gretel, combined with the support of carers and pantomime actors from other societies, this is a traditional pantomime that had the audience crying with laughter, booing the ‘baddies’ and cheering on the heroes.

Our story begins with our narrator, Alan A Dale (Kei Bailey) who sets the scene for our unfolding story. To the song ‘Footloose’, each cast member is introduced to the audience with cheers of appreciation and then the tale is ready to be told.

First our baddie, Carmella Marchpane makes her appearance. A wonderfully sinister performance from Colette Buchanan-Gray bantering with the audience and oozing evil from every pore she was accompanied by her comedy sidekicks: Sherbet, a VERY talkative crow (brilliantly performed by the fantastically funny Adam Fielding), and a trio of cats the delightful Jellybean (William Pavitt), Butterscotch (Courtney Brumpton) and Humbug (Henry Jackson.) Carmella informs us that despite having a wonderful gingerbread house she has a hunger for something else … humans!

Next some light relief from the fairies, who live in the forest: Fairy April (Hollie Morris) and Fairy May (Sue Fletcher.) Each wearing sparking shimmering wings,

there was a lovely warmth and humour to their interactions. I particularly liked how Hollie danced so gracefully to ‘Hush a Bye Mountain’ as she cast her magic spell.

Next a scene change, and we are informed that we are in ‘Much Chipping of the Enamel’ here to meet our eponymous hero Robin Hood played by Stephen Coote. Stephen was great as Robin interacting with the other characters well and showing good comic timing, ably supported by Shaun Roseveare as Luke Warmwater.

Robin’s love interest, Maid Marian, was played with humour and dry wit by Becki Doughty who delivered her many lines with great comic timing. I really loved her duet with Robin ‘I’m a Believer’ full of infectious energy as the rest of the cast joined in, only for her to turn him down at the end! Marian’s companion was Lady Apricot Crumble was played by Maria Michael who provided Becki with excellent assistance.

Our other villain is the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Thomas Marron. Thomas was every inch the baddie, clad from head to foot in black, he relished his role, growing with confidence as he teased the crowd laughing his evil laugh – he even adlibbed. The part where he corrected Kei for prompting him too soon was hilarious and a brilliant bit of improvisation. The Sheriff’s sidekick, Sir Guy of Gisborne, was played by Jeff Morris with gentle sarcasm and dry humour.

Next, we have the first of our comedy characters, servant Patty Cake played by Paige Ruddlesdin (who was also the choreographer) and her sidekick Peter Pickle (Nathan Storey). Paige really got the crowd going with her corny jokes (congestion charge and coconut shy) and Nathan was a brilliant straight man, providing the punchline with his egg jokes (crack me up). Ian Mills as Toby Jugg, the third servant, was silent but had great facial expressions.

Then we had our dames – Nanny Mangle and ‘dame in training’ Anna Prentice (get it?) played by the wonderful Craig Pakes and Josh Lane. Wearing brightly colourful dresses they made a fantastic team with Josh providing many of the one-liners. I especially liked the scene where the birds were eating all the seeds. Nanny was responsible for the Sheriff’s nephew Hansel (Becky Murray) and Gretel (Johanna Robinson.) Becky had lovely stage presence and great projection whilst supporting Johanna who was clearly having a ball.

Now more baddies the odious Hernia Septic (Laura Davies) and her equally obnoxious sons Mick (Tom Kirk), Nick (Jack Strange) and Rick (Duncan Tomlin) the Sheriff’s servants with a horrible task to perform. Laura was simply fantastic as the grotesque Hernia and interacted well with the comic trio.

But where would Robin be without his Merrie Men? Will Scarlett (a hilariously camp Stuart Wyle), Little John (James Southlee), Friar Tuck (Rhys Smith), Much Moore (Jason Radford), Jack Pot (Lynn Kendall) and Bob Down (Linda Wilson). Each actor brought something different to their characterisation and they were fun to watch, especially when we quickly learn that Will isn’t very good with a bow and arrow because of his ‘weak wrists,’ and poor Friar Tuck gets an arrow in his bottom! I really liked Little John’s various disguises and Friar Tuck’s horrible potions that came in very handy at the end!

Back to the forest to meet the beautiful Sherwood Forest birds who treated us to ‘Colour my World’ sung by Nora Nightingale (Lucy Baptist) who bravely took centre stage and sang a solo. She was then joined by the other birds (Glenda Goldfinch: Zara Barett, Chloe Cuckoo: Brianna Sprague, Charley Chiff-Chaff: Sara Sprague, Wendy Wood Warbler: Beth Stokes, Olivia Owl: Rachel Pavitt, Winifred Woodpecker: Mandy Ashley and Fiona Fieldfare: Kodie Hutchinson) joining in with the chorus. I liked the scene where Charley Chiff Chaff was teaching the birds about different trees where everyone got to say the punch line to a joke.

At the end of Act 1 we learn that Marian and Lady Apricot have been imprisoned in the castle tower (cue dramatic Eastenders theme) and the twins Hansel and Gretel have been led deep into the forest to be eaten by wolves by their scheming uncle, aided by Hernia who is now calling herself aunty-septic! But fear not Robin has a plan to rescue his beloved, the birds cover the children with leaves and the fairies cast a spell to keep them safe. Phew!

Act II starts with a hilarious routine of ‘Bad Guys’ from Bugsy Malone performed by our ‘orrible baddies! We are then transported to the village fair and the archery contest where the Sheriff showed his prowess at shooting only to have his nose well and true put out of joint by Robin Hood in disguise. Robin gives himself away by performing a trick shot shooting an apple off the top of Marian’s head. I loved the use of the Bullseye Theme (members of the audience of a certain age will have got that reference!)

But what about Hansel and Gretel lost in the scary forest? Their grumbling bellies force them into the clutches of Carmella and her evil henchmen. Will they get away or will Carmella get her kiddie kebab? Of course not! Robin and his merrie men come to the rescue accompanied by all the ‘goodies’ following which is a hilarious chase scene to the tune of ‘William Tell Overture’, the audience cheering the ‘goodies’ and booing the ‘baddies.’

The ‘baddies’ are captured but evil Carmella has one more trick up her sleeve revealing that she will use her magic wand to overcome all her enemies.

Fortunately, Friar Tuck comes to the rescue with a knockout sleeping potion, and she falls fast asleep snoring her head off.

Robin and Marian are married, and everyone celebrates in true panto style to ‘Can’t Stop The Beat.’ And they all lived happily ever after.

Kei and his team of creatives have created a wonderfully funny, traditional family panto that was enjoyed by all. Every person on the stage was given their individual moment to shine and it was lovely to watch each actor grow in confidence and inhabit their character.

Pantomimes are always funniest when things go wrong as this is where the actors can show their improvisation skills and this panto was no exception. Lines that were missed were deftly prompted by Kei, in his role as narrator, so they formed a seamless part of the show. Kei’s gentle humour ensured that no one got upset or stressed and actors were able to laugh at themselves, so the audience laughed along with them.

The carers accompanying some of the actors were dressed in costume, so they blended in with the performance, and everyone got a mention in the programme. The costumes themselves made by Linda Wilson (an incredible forty-five of them) were stunning and beautifully crafted so they could be comfortably worn by the actors. I loved the birds’ costumes with feather details on their arms. The excellent props were designed and sourced by Maria Michael and the projected back drops all added to the theme of the show.

Congratulations to everyone involved in creating this incredible show especially the eighteen amazing students who were given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams of performing in a real theatre in front of an audience. Also, to all the carers and other actors who supported the cast in making it possible for the students to take part, especially Sara Sprague, whose overwhelming pride in her students’ achievement was obvious.

At the end I chatted to Josh Lane, who played the dame in training, and asked him how he felt about performing in the show, he replied – ‘Amazing!’ That’s what it’s all about the chance to be someone else for a moment and live out your dreams – whatever your ability.