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Robin and me

September 18, 2019

I’ve never met Robin Bailes and there’s a good chance I never will. But I love him. Well, to be clear, I love his writing.

Robin is the author of Will Shakespeare The Panto, the first panto I directed. I loved that script. How could I not? The song he chose for the Act One finale was Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. A nod to Monty Python? Fantastic. And, in a nod to Shakespeare in Love, one of the characters was a woman pretending to be a man in order to appear on stage. The character’s name? Bob. Oh, my, a nod to Black Adder. Even better.

At some point during the preparations I somehow stumbled across the fact that Shakespeare is credited with writing the first ever knock knock joke. (Macbeth, Act II Scene 3.) Say, thought I, I could use this as the basis of some promotion, which I did. Every day for weeks before opening night I published a Shakespeare pun on our Facebook page. For example:

Two days

I also decided to have a competition, offering a pair of opening night tickets to the person who wrote the best Shakespeare pun. When entries began to appear, it occurred to me that it would be kind of cool if the author agreed to be the judge. I contacted his publisher and Robin enthusiastically agreed.

These were the ten entries.

Shakespeare puns

Apparently it was no contest for Robin. Number 2 made him laugh out loud, so Edith it was.

I was so lucky that script had just been published when I started my search in 2014. Bringing it to life was so much fun.

That said, by the time the final performance was over I was completely knackered. Directing a panto is a massive undertaking. I’d done my duty, taken my term at the helm and next year it would be up to someone else.

Four months later there was no hint that anyone else was even looking at possible scripts, despite me dropping a number of hints.

Okay, I thought, let’s just have a wee look to find out what else Robin Bailes had written.

There was a Cinderella script, but we’d already done a different version of the same story. More interesting was Robin Hood and his Merry Men, which he’d co-written with Jonathan Hales, and The Return of Robin Hood, which he’d written as a follow up. I ordered both scripts.

Of the two, I really preferred the latter, but you can’t really do The Return of Robin Hood without first doing the former. At the next board meeting I announced that not only was I willing to direct the panto for the second year in a row, but I would also undertake directing the following year. The sighs of relief were audible.

As it turned out Robin Hood and His Merry Men was my favourite of the three pantos, not least for this moment in the Act 1 finale which I turned into the poster artwork for The Return of Robin Hood.

air guitar cartoon

After three pantos in a row, I was done. It really was someone else’s turn.

Don’t get me wrong. The 2017 and 2018 pantos were fine, well received by audiences. Fine. But, you know, the scripts just didn’t have that same punch, that same je ne sais quoi. They just weren’t Robin Bailes scripts.

For me, the best pantos – like the best children’s books – have something for everyone. Stories with familiar elements for kids and lots of jokes only the adults will get. Mr Bailes delivers.

And so I got back together with Robin and I’m back in the director’s chair, this time with his version of Ali Baba. All’s well in pantoland.

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