Ha Ha Hood! | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Ha Ha Hood!

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Praise be to Bobby Ball… Already enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to his role alongside Lee Mack in Not Going Out, his timeless, impish impudence is the saving grace of Ha Ha Hood!

A pantomime for adults, this the latest instalment in the enduring, if unfashionable, Ha Ha! series, following Joe Pasquale’s Holmes last year – and it’s as shamelessly retro as ever, reflecting the provenance of its stars. Su Pollard, as Maid Marian, even dons a Maplins-like yellow-trimmed hat to trot out her Hi-Di-Hi catchphrase… while posing a nurse doing a colonic irrigation. Yes, that’s the standard of a script that’s splattered with double entendres which even the Carry On franchise might even have baulked at 50 years ago. Robin, for instance, has horses called Dick and Fanny which he likes to ride.

It’s been written by Ben Langley, who takes the lead as Robin Hood himself and bears a passing physical resemblance to Mel Brooks, who has, of course, already spoofed this Sherwood Forest legend. I say ‘written’, that’s in the sense that he cobbled together lots of old songs and gags – even the Abbot and Costello ‘Who’s On First’ routine – into a vague semblance of plot.

Yet it’s forgiven for giving the chance for 70-year-old Ball do his thing in the quadruple roles of Friar Tuck, Guy of Gisbourne, (also played briefly and hilariously by a Postman Pat puppet), wedding planner Madame Pompom and a child. That he sometimes finds himself in the wrong costume, wandering, bewildered, downstage, is a sample of the show’s loose charm. The performance is full of fumbled lines and corpsing, and it’s hard to tell how much is real and how much is rote – a sign we’re dealing with consummate professionals here.

Ball’s finest moment comes in a gymnasium scene – as anachronistic and gratuitous as anything else in this set-up – in which he proves he can be tear-inducingly funny just holding a yoga ball, even before he does anything with it.

Straight men tend to get a raw deal, and while Tommy Cannon is necessarily overshadowed by his long-term foil, he also isn’t given much chance to play up the domineering cruelty that defined their double-act dynamic, despite playing the villainous Sheriff Of Nottingham as well as Little John (cue penis euphemism). Still he makes the most of his situation, and acts about two decades younger than his 76 years.

Niftily staged on a budget, Ha Ha Hood! also owes a lot to the fine musical backing of Andy Pickering, who provides cute extra gags, smuggling a few bars of a TV theme tune into the scene-setting soundtrack, for example.

A Knockabout gang-show spirit pervades the production, established right from Langley’s playful cajoling of the audience as they file in. This, and other audience participations, set the loose, ribald atmosphere that’s forgiving of a script that’s often lazy.

And we’re always safe in the knowledge that there will soon be another silly set piece giving the childlike Ball the chance to show off his still-masterful clowning. His reputation probably still sits with cheesy Seventies entertainers, but his fine work here surely signals that it’s surely time for renewed appreciation. Long may he rock on.

Review date: 6 Oct 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Dartford Orchard Theatre

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