Oh no, she didn’t! Oh yes, she did! After some twenty years spent consolidating the pantomime tradition in Gibraltar with the Trafalgar Theatre Group, Margaret Seed has eventually passed the baton, er… the canvas chair to Nadine Gonzalez, who is directing ‘Robin Hood’ this January after a crash-course in pantology as co-director when she played Crocodile in ‘Peter Pan’ last year.
“I took up the challenge because theatre is what I breathe, so no challenge is too challenging for me there” Nadine says, “but particularly because I want to keep pantomime alive in Gibraltar and nobody else dared fill Margaret’s shoes.” Pretty big shoes indeed, clown-sized perhaps, in terms of expertise and vision, even for a seasoned actress and fast-learning director like Nadine, thrown at the deep end of managing a large cast of thirty-two children and teenagers, a ten-strong adult chorus and the busy line-up of principals, a healthy mix of panto faithfuls and newcomers with a varied experience in amateur theatre.
But Margaret isn’t bowing out yet: free from directorial responsibilities, she can focus on her acting talents and grace the plot with the presence of her Wise Woman character who answers in riddles to anyone daring to quiz her with the meaning of life and alia.
“Don’t mind the director, the pantomime will bring itself together,” Margaret used to preach, and Nadine is confident that her cast will pull the best one ever, as they do every year. The subject, ‘Robin Hood’, has never been staged in Gibraltar before, and the well-known legend offers scope to play with wisecracks, twists and turns, and extra lines for extra giggles.
“The story is indeed about the classic Robin Hood who is in love with Maid Marion and lives in the woods with the Merry Men to rob the rich and help the poor, but this lot isn’t doing such a good job at it, although they try very hard!” Nadine explains. “I’ve modified the script here and there to adapt it to the cast and Gibraltar, and to introduce one-liners for the teenage members, who are the future of our group and Gibraltar’s theatre, encouraging them and others afterwards to step on stage actively.”
She has also jazzed up music and choreography, with the help of dancer Jade Federico and a program of chart-toppers by Carly Rae Jepsen, Justin Timberlake, Olly Murs and Meghan Trainor, just to quote some, that the audience is guaranteed to sing along, although they will have to pay the outmost attention to plays on words in the twisting of original lyrics. “The script itself often suggests what tracks to use, but they tend to be too traditional, so we opted for contemporary music that everyone knows and can dance along. In fact, we will invite the audience to stand up and dance on the spot, following our chorus’s lead. I am also adding a rostrum before the first row, to extend the stage for the dancing routines.”
Trevor Norton, who is not new to the Robin Hood franchise after playing Friar Tuck in the original musical ‘Arrow’ over a decade ago, is back in the role he plays best, sensible shoes and outrageously preposterous matching apparel included: the Dame, namely Courgette, who is the Sheriff’s personal cook – but a lousy one – as well as the heroine’s friend and confidante.
Here, Friar Tuck is played by newcomer Pat Borda who is a worse cook for the Merry Men than Courgette is for the palace, Will Scarlet by Edmund Lawson, and Little John by Mario Prescott. Two of the Group’s pillars, Steve Lawson and Harriet Seed will go head to head as the Sheriff and Robin respectively, while Daniel-Strain-Webber plays King Richard and Kathryn Parker Maid Marion. Mellifluous-voiced Alan-a-Dale, in this case Anna-a-Dale, is played by Anna Felices.
Traditionally a Christmas dish, in Gibraltar the pantomime has become a way to lighten up the January blues at it runs at the end of that month, when not much entertainment is going on compared to usually busy Decembers. “This gives us time to piece all parts together at the Ince’s Hall after the seasonal break,” Nadine explains, “when we start complete rehearsals and to build up the scenery, with hectic Saturday marathon sessions with kids and adults, to perfect our performance.” And to work off the turkey and pudding extra calories, of course!
This means the cast will have plenty of time to tease the audience with a sneaky preview at the Three Kings’ Cavalcade on 5th January: “We will participate as a walking float,” the director says, “no way we can make it on time to build a truck float, but we want to be there, all dressed up, handing flyers to promote our work with kids of all ages.”
There and then, they will sample some of the most extravagant costumes Margaret is sewing for them, as she has been doing for the past umpteen years. “I don’t know yet what as, but I will dress up too,” Nadine pledges, “and go along with them.” There is also a bear in the picture, a trained animal like those that Middle Ages’ buskers used to show around playing tricks,” and although Nadine dismisses she will allow an actual bear on stage, she pledges the costume will be as realistic as possible and quite frightening in the iconic ‘Behind You!’ scene.
“In Gibraltar, the pantomime is much loved by everyone, and parents who got introduced to it when accompanying their sons and daughters are now attending on their own on a different night than the one their teenage children pick to watch the panto with their friends,” she says. So, it pretty much remains a family business on either side of the stage, with Nadine’s son Harry manning lights, her husband on hand backstage, and the Lawsons teaming up to deliver some great humour. Steve is also in charge of designing and engineering the multi-layered sets and wings, with the help of Moira Bisset, Marie Wallace and Chris Nelson.
And when the curtains fall on the last performance, a gala night with top dignitaries in attendance, the Trafalgar Theatre Group will split in smaller groups and start rehearsing their entries to the Gibraltar Drama Festival in early spring, in which they are expected to participate with at least one junior and one senior play, to regroup again for the Royal Navy Drama Festival soon after. No rest for the wicked, or the wickedly funny, especially when they have to transition from comedy to tragedy at their directors’ whim.
‘Robin Hood’ runs from Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd January with matinées on Saturday and Sunday and again from 26th to 28th January. Tickets are priced £6 and £8 for the gala.
words | Elena Scialtiel