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Wednesday- The tale of Robin Hood Continues!

January 28, 2015

Wednesday 28th January, 2015

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Both Tuesday and today, Wednesday were Lunch shows. That involves us arriving a half hour later than a tea show, but surprisingly finishing at around the same time! That is because a lunch starts at 1.30pm and we go on with the first half of the Panto at 2.30pm, with a shorter interval than Tea time shows. Hope that makes sense!

The weather is still awful- rain on Tuesday and torrential rain and hail today, so just the best place to be really- indoors, jolly and warm! Both houses were very good- Wednesdays came from Kent and from Norwich mostly, with a bit of Woodford Green- The Bowling Club I believe. A very lovely part of Essex that.

On a Lunch day Chef has very kindly produced a platter of sandwiches and cakes for the shorter interval. as Laura and then Stephanie tried to zip me into my frock I think we all realised the result of such Brick Lane hospitality. The Frock must have shrunk.. it took some persuasion to get that zip up!

Everyday a further bit of costume, a flourish of feather or a jewel appears from Zara’s work box, and is added to the costumes. Mostly to Andrew’s costumes, but his flamboyant Sheriff needs a gilded lily here and there for the character!

The characters in our version of the “Babes” story are not entirely traditional, but they do have a nod or two to the pantomimes that went before. Bet you didn’t know that Robin Hood and Maid Marion were added a good while after the original “Babes In The Wood” story? Oh you did? They were add-ons to the rather grim and harrowing tale that had become popular well before pantomimes were even thought of.

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The Origins:

The panto story is from a tale based on an old English Ballad (preserved in the British Museum) of 1595, it tells the story of two children, abandoned deep in the forest upon the orders of their Wicked Uncle. It was First presented on the stage in 1793 as ”The Children In The Wood”, an Opera performed at the Haymarket Theatre. In this version the children survived, and were restored to their parents, but other versions stuck to the more gloomy conclusion of the original ballad.

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They succumbed to the elements in “Harlequin and Cock Robin: or, The Babes In The Wood” at Drury Lane in 1827,in what was the first “pantomime” version, and again in 1856 at the Haymarket Theatre. At this point the connection with Sherwood Forest and a Sheriff don’t exist- the Wicked Uncle is the Ultimate villain, and in some cases is killed as justice is done in the grim tale.

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In 1867 the character of Robin Hood was introduced to the story. He rescued the babes from their fate, but this was not always the case. Covent Garden’s pantomime in 1874 kept the unhappy ending, and  also saw their Wicked Uncle meeting his death. In modern versions the babes always survive their ordeal, and the evil uncle is unmasked.

With the introduction of the Robin Hood story came Maid Marion, sometimes a nursemaid to the “Babes”- later the Dame role, and the evil Uncle is now The Wicked Sheriff who employs two robbers to do his dirty work.

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The Robbers-often Nasty Norman & ‘Orrible Herbert with The Evil Sheriff: Seen here as Roy Hudd, Keith Barron and the late great Geoffrey Hughes in the Sadlers Wells version of the story.

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The parts of the children have been interpreted in different ways-from small children to comedians. Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell appeared as “The Babes” at Drury Lane in 1897. Elaine Paige has been a “Babe”, alongside Anita Dobson when they were both juveniles in Drama school.

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Marti Webb as Robin Hood at The Palladium “Babes In The Wood”. This gorgeous set is still looking stunning and was seen recently in Nottingham Theatre Royal. The photographs below are from that original Palladium Production.

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This Palladium Panto featured Barbara Windsor as Fairy, Derek Griffiths as the Sheriff and the fabulous John Inman as Dame. Like our Brick Lane version there was a School Room scene, with John Inman as teacher controlling the unruly pupils.Here are a few photographs of John and also the great Jack Tripp as Teachers in “Babes”. Jack played Dame with Roy Hudd & Geoffrey Hughes many times in “Babes”.

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Recently Andrew Ryan played Nurse in “Robin Hood” at Bradford Alhambra with Billy Pearce and Hilary O’Neil. This version told the Robin Hood-Sherwood story, but did not involve any “Babes”. There was no schoolroom in this version- but it did have a huge dragon that flew over the auditorium and a waterfall that wrote words!


Thursday- tomorrow is another lunch time show, and like the others will be packed out- It is very strange to arrive at a theatre when the audience is already there- and sitting down! An odd feeling when you are used to being backstage before the coaches arrive in Panto! Whatever the weather I know that the place will be bright and inviting and ready for fun!

More Origins of “The Babes” in Pantomime in the next update!

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