Writer: Ben Langley
Composer: Griff Johnson
Director: Jamie Wilson
Reviewer: Michael Gray
Last year it was Ha Ha Holmes with Joe Pasquale. This year it’s Ha Ha Hood, Prince of Leaves.
Ben Langley, proud begetter of the Ha Ha series, has some advice for the audience – “Lower your standards!”. And, we might add, turn back the clock. It’s as if the last thirty years never happened, and we’re back in the Eighties, when Hi-de-Hi was a highlight of the telly schedules, with Cannon and Ball over on the other side.
Hard to pigeon-hole this unsophisticated entertainment. Part variety, part sketch, part panto, with plenty for the punters to do, and a good old-fashioned warm-up to begin.
The comedy, not surprisingly, is not cutting-edge. A male ballet-dancer splits his tights. Huge exercise balls are amusingly used at the boot camp. Jokes abound about bodily functions, and women who are fat or ugly. There’s a song in which Hood (Langley, who also wrote the show and shifts the scenery) accompanies himself on guitar and encourages an unspecified woman to expose her “fun-bags” – “Show Them To Me”. And it helps if you can remember what a 3½” floppy was!
The plot sees Robin and Marian ten years on, after an acrimonious uncoupling – the only remnants of the Merry Men are Little John and Friar Tuck …
The music borrows shamelessly – The Stripper, Kit and the Widow, the Cannon and Ball theme song, Lionel Bart (who famously flopped with his own Robin Hood spoof) and, my favourite, a Moonlight Bay comedy medley which could have been straight out of the music halls.
The national treasures in the cast certainly know their craft, and their catch-phrases; the audience are helpless with laughter much of the time. Lines are fluffed, props fail, comedians corpse. Sometimes on purpose.
But there’s a warm, innocent nostalgia in the air, and that carries the show. Bobby and Tommy of Cannon and Ball fame, “combined age 146” seem to be enjoying it all, especially the ancient “Who’s in the first house” routine, done with delightfully manic desperation.
Su Pollard proves a game old trouper, perching up a ladder with the enema tube (don’t ask), belting out the curry-oke Nessun Dorma, and, of course, shouting out Hi-de-Hi to the campers …
This gruelling national tour chose Chelmsford for its opening (“Our career’s on the up, Tommy…”)
Hitler and Hamlet have already had the Ha Ha treatment. After Hood, what, I wonder ? Ha Ha Harold (one in the eye for him), Ha Ha Horatio (kiss me, Ha Ha Hardy). Time, and the tour schedules, will tell.
Runs until August 23, then tours until November 17