Union Theatre, London – until 5 May 2018
Alarm bells should have rung when the programme revealed much of this young cast had panto experience. Twang!! is a camp and fabulous journey through Sherwood Forest but despite the high energy and filthy innuendo, there is something missing from this much-anticipated revival.
The show basically ruined Lionel Bart’s life in 1965, despite its starry cast of Barbara Windsor, Ronnie Corbett and Bernard Bresslaw with Joan Littlewood directing (though she left the production before its premiere) this was such a flop that after 43 performances it closed in the West End and lost Bart all his Oliver! money (until the film was released in 1968).
The Union Theatre production features Julian Woolford’s revisions of the story about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, full of innuendo (Friar Tuck became Try a F… too many times), queerness and general campery, which is good fun for the cast but the story of Robin Hood (Peter Noden) who has lost his twang can often be exhausting and trying as much as it is fun.
It often feels like a student revue, with too many cast members crammed in and dancing in the small space. The cast tries with some weak material and they do look like they are having fun but there are too many distractions, like singers not being heard over the band or random Bart songs to pad out this frothy production.
The other factor is that the music just isn’t great, except for big ensemble numbers like Silver Arrow it is forgettable and not difficult to see why audiences couldn’t warm to it. On the plus side there are some strong performances from the actors who go all out and embrace the ridiculousness of it such as Kane Verrall as Will Scarlett and Louie Westwood as Friar Tuck with Christopher Hewitt as the Sheriff of Nottingham who is a cross between Russell Brand and Judge Rinder, Jessica Brady’s larger than life Delphina and the leather-trousered Prince John (Lewis McBean) but there are many in the cast who just cannot go big enough to justify the OTT nature of the production.
In a bigger space, as an alternative to panto, this would be a great production but Woolford’s book is unsure if it wants to be a lovable production like Half a Sixpence or a Carry on up the Sherwood production. I think as awful as the original book must have been it would have at least been an interesting piece of theatre history, which this production is so desperate to be with its references to Les Mis and Wicked.