Posts Tagged ‘Marion’

01/12/11

It’s Christmas. A time to eat drink and be merry. So what better show to start the festive season than spending some time with Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Robin Hood has been a favourite character of mine for as long as I can remember. As a child my first love was…okay it wasn’t Disney’s fox version of Robin Hood, he came a close second to Virgil from Thunderbirds, but he was right up there. Since then I’ve always looked on the story of Robin Hood with warmth and fondness, so when the RSC announced their Christmas show, I was incredibly excited.

After last year’s sensational Matilda, so sensational I saw it twice, Robin Hood had some big shoes to fill. The marketing for Robin Hood hinted at a dark take on the normal pantomime fodder, with our eponymous hero running through a misty forest. Even the tagline ‘tread carefully through the forest’ spoke of unseen dangers at every turn; very different from the musical extravaganza we were treated to last year.

The Heart of Robin Hood takes on an almost Shakespearian format. Maid Marion, oppressed by her life in the castle, disguises herself as a man and steals away to the forest. There she meets Robin Hood and his men who, unlike stories we’re used to, is a bit of a brute. Instead of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin simply robs everybody, keeping all he steals for himself and his gang. From here the show takes on a familiar format, as Marion joins the outlaws and teaches Robin about virtue, honesty, and love.

However, while there is a formulaic structure to this tale, there are curveballs that many would not expect from a children’s Christmas show. The plots main conflict is derived from Prince John’s desire to slaughter two small children while he amasses an army to steal the throne while the king is away at the Crusades.

Martin Hutson is deliciously evil as Prince John, revelling in every heinous act the character commits while maintain an oily veneer that is great fun to watch. There was almost an element of Richard the third in his portrayal, as such open and disgusting villainy is very difficult to get right without lapsing into comedy, but Hutson seemed to manage it here.

James Mcardle as the eponymous Robin Hood is also a standout performance, portraying Robin as a little more slow-witted than the legend you’re used to, which made him all the more endearing. Mcardle is, of course, met blow for blow by Iris Roberts as Marion, who mixes comedy and pathos incredibly well and carries most of the story on her shoulders. Marion also has the honour of nailing my favourite line in the script, demonstrating Farr’s complete understanding of women. “I love him. He’s brutish, he’s rough, he’s emotionally unavailable. He’s perfect!”

It is a credit to the entire company that they all use their surroundings beautifully, mixing brilliant acrobatics with fantastic acting with seemingly no effort at all. Speaking of the surrounding, I must talk about the set.

Borkur Jonsson’s set is spectacular. A huge curved wall dominates the stage, so high it disappears behind the back wall and into darkness. Characters climb up it on ropes, abseil down it, slide down exuberantly, and use it’s crevices and hidden levels to enact various settings in the story. This set piece alone injects energy into the story, and makes every scene that much more exciting.

In addition to this, a small pool with hidden depths provides great moments of fun and levity, and a jaw dropping moment for fans of the male gender. (I won’t spoil it, but it’s when Robin’s Merry Men first appear. There’s a plastic goose involved. You’ll know it when you see it.) Add to that the forest that hangs from the ceiling, from which characters swing on ropes, musicians play in the tree tops and Robin Hood leaps on unsuspecting victims, and the hidden platforms and windows in the sliding wall, then this is simply the best set I’ve seen all year.

That said, this is not a perfect show. The script sags a little in the middle, and I don’t think the marketing for this show did it any favours. Who is this show aimed at? Is it a children’s show with dark moments, or a show for adults that children will happen to enjoy too? From the marketing so far, it seems the RSC isn’t really sure.

Also, while the set is just beautiful, it does mean that the performance space is very small – leading to lots of entrances and exits in a scene from minor characters. This is also true of chase scenes, wherein the space takes on a slapstick element as the majority of the chase goes on outside the performance space. It’s not something I found particularly distracting, but from the grumblings of a few around me in the interval I know it may not be to everyone’s taste.

But there are minor quibbles, and in my humble opinion, Icelandic director Gisli Orn Gardarsson has created a truly great Christmas show here. It has everything a family of any age could want. There is drama, comedy, romance, some fantastic fight scenes, and a darkness that is rarely seen from a piece aimed at a younger audience. It is for this reason more than any other that I’m sure some will give it negative reviews.

Adults in the audience glanced worriedly to their children as Prince John dangled a severed tongue for all to see, but the kids loved every second of it, and that is the secret of the success of this show. Not once did it patronise or talk down to any of the children watching it – instead it presented a fantastic story with, admittedly, some strong themes, in such a way that every child understood and enjoyed, even in the scary bits.

The show may not be as obviously perfect as last years Matilda, but The Heart of Robin Hood may still be the most fun you have in a theatre this Christmas – and not a panto dame in sight.

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