Reviewed by Harry Mottram
Playing at the egg, Theatre Royal, Bath until 15th January 2017
For ages 6+
Liberation day is coming, sing the outlaws in Greg Banks’s urban-toned muscular production of Robin Hood. Four modern-day homeless people sit around a fire lit in an old dustbin complaining about their lot before re-telling the story of the Sherwood Forest Medieval socialist who robs from the rich and gives to the poor.
It is a refreshingly earthy and even grungy version of the folk myth, but never allows the humour to evaporate into the arboreal canopy above. The quips, the jokes and the knockabout are always given preference over a heavy-handed political message. That’s not to say that message isn’t there, but the abiding memory is of a good story well told with a quiver full of laughs.
Set in the round in the egg auditorium the stage is a series of logs, ropes and piles of fallen leaves. An orchestra of three musicians known as the Marianettes sit up on a raised platform and provide all the sound effects required, along with thumping ska-inspired music, to the songs. Amy Sergeant (guitar), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Rhian Williams (drums) add huge energy and volume to the musical theatre show while Ziggy Jacob’s lighting creates a moody middle-of-the-forest atmosphere.
With plenty of fighting, chases and disputes this is an action packed narrative that takes place inches from the audience in an intensive drama that pitches good against evil, the poor against the rich, the down-trodden against the privileged. You don’t need to search hard for the themes. There’s no green tights, bows and arrows, quivers or a horse in sight, but the cast switch effortlessly between characters, doubling up seamlessly to keep the saga ticking over.
Bearded Peter Edwards is a serious-minded Robin Hood determined to return justice to the streets of Nottingham, but has his work cut out with baddie Nik Holden as the Sheriff. With his tattered leather coat, Holden puts up stiff resistance to the Merry Men and convinces as the dark lord of the castle. If the two protagonists are a couple of sober sides then Stephen Leask playing several rotund characters provides much of the humour. From his appearance with his invisible dog, to his bath tub Prince John, and to his not terribly devout Friar Tuck, the laughter comes easily. Banks’ script helps but the cast make so much of the physical humour, the improvised slapstick and the one-liners that we feel at once part of the gang and able to laugh at the foolish antics.
Maid Marion – played with gymnastic nimbleness by Rebecca Killick – is a lively love match for Robin and (perhaps borrowing something of Nancy from Swallows and Amazons) is an ideal role model for girls and boys as the loyal daughter and an adept archer.
The audience of all ages are gripped throughout the 90 minute show and enjoy any chance to be incorporated into the action with the sack race at Nottingham Castle a particular highlight. No yawns, no fidgeting, or early exits even from quite young children. A refreshingly new production with its sharp modern view of the outlaws anchored in the here and now but set in a mythical old England that is bang on target.
This review was originally published in Children’s Theatre Magazine.