Little Robin Redbreast, Salisbury Playhouse, to 27 December

THE worldwide effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are incalculable, and perhaps the sector worst affected in the UK is the live entertainment industry. Closed two weeks before the start of the first lockdown, and remaining closed when other businesses opened, the rules left managements scuttling for solutions to make their communal, intimate and essentially social auditoria “Covid-compliant.”

There have been lots of different solutions, but most have involved removal of rows of seats, blanking out of seats, and of course the introduction of one-way systems, hand sanitising, temperature taking … all that stuff.

Watching the revival of Glyn Kerslake and Gareth Machin’s delightful Little Robin Redbreast, which has re-opened Salisbury Playhouse in time for Christmas, I found myself wondering how these excited little children at their first seasonal show would feel in the future, when all the adults around them were NOT wearing masks!

The 60-minute show was first performed at Salisbury in 2017, and has been reworked with a nod to the 2020 everybody-working-at-home phenomenon. Two of the original cast, Daddy and MD Dan Smith and Philippa Hogg as Molly, return. They are joined by Ryan Heenan as Robin and Bernadette Bangura as Mother.

Ryan is best known in Salisbury as John Trenchard in Moonfleet in 2018, and he followed that with Billionaire Boy in which he played the lead at Southampton Nuffield and on tour. Bernadette delighted last year’s panto audiences as Consuela in Robin Hood. You need exceptional performers for the energetic and demanding Little Robin Redbreast, and director Machin has found four terrific actor/musician/singer/acrobat/dancers for the show that takes the Playhouse across Christmas.

A simple and effective set, designed by Toots Butcher, is all part of a story that takes the audience on an adventurous countdown from the beginning of December to Christmas Eve. Five-year-old Robin just wants to have fun, but his father is busy composing at home, his mother is out at work and his sister is perfecting her dance-star attitude. When he gets an Advent calendar and the first window he opens shows a Robin, our hero decides to BE a red-breasted bird, courtesy of a puffa-gilet. And then the fun begins.

Will he find the way home, will he escape the clutches of the cat, will he manage to nick food from a sleeping squirrel?  Ryan’s extraordinary energy and charisma roll the show along at a terrific pace. There are things that audiences can’t do this year, like shouting out, singing, going onto the stage. But substitute clapping, drumming your thighs and a bit of on-the-spot dancing and all the fun of the Christmas show is there

Performances continue until 27th December.  There is no turning up on the offchance this year, as entrance to the theatre is timed and checks have to be made all along the way. Don’t let that put you off. Judging by the response from the audience on 8th December, it’s a sure fire hit and a heartening way to get back to live performance for all the family.



Photographs by Helen Maybanks

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