BACK to Hamalot, and quite a lot has changed in Dame Berwick Kaler’s 34th Theatre Royal since press night in mid-December.
The running time has been pruned by 20 minutes, tightening the first half in particular, and the comic interplay between Kaler and his cohorts has settled into a groove but still with room for the unexpected, keeping everyone around him on their toes.
You pick up on different sights and sounds second time around: the pastiche of a David Hockney woodland painting, with the trademark round spectacles resting on the frame, incorporated in a forest backcloth; the simple pleasure of a very theatrical puppet Meerkat standing in as the sound of a cuckoo in a cuckoo clock; Kaler’s York 800 costume for the closing walk-down; and Danny Hammerton’s wonderful trumpet playing.
Then there’s the gradual increase in recent years of spot-the-gay in-jokes (witness Friends of Dorothy references and a hastily curtailed fumble for a bar of soap in the bathtub slapstick scene).
You also note how the performances have blossomed, especially debutant baddie Jonathan Race’s haughty Sheriff Hutton. AJ Powell and his fabulous legs have their best panto yet as his minstrel Ice Blondel takes on various female guises; Martin Barrass harks back to vintage English comedy with his evocation of a toothy Archbishop; and if you think being tied up is no laughing matter (and of course it isn’t), nevertheless you should see the physical comedy that Suzy Cooper’s Marion finds when trying to express herself with a gag in her mouth.
Best of all is Panto Style, the York re-mix of Gangnam Style, a video sequence that replicates every move from the South Korean original, Kaler style. It should end up on YouTube.
Robin Hood And His Merry Mam!, York Theatre Royal, until February 2. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk