THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD: David Farr
RSC, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs: 2h 35m, one interval, till 7 January
Review: Rod Dungate, 15 12 11
Excellent grown-up play for all, focused specially for young people
Let’s say one thing straight out – this is an excellent play for young people. Even, possibly, very young – the family group next to me had children of 4 and 5 . . . the choice is yours. I saw the play at a mid-week matinee, the auditorium full of children with parents and school parties. If children get bored, they talk. They all watched ROBIN HOOD with rapt attention. But this is also a beautiful, serious, no nonsense, surprising, uncompromising, and in some ways, quite daring, play.
In approaching his adaptation (Is it a myth? one asks) David Farr has made two significant choices right at the outset; his Robin is a peasant and little better than a thug, robbing for himself not the poor, and Marion will be the driving force of the narrative. It is through her that Robin finds his heart and learns to care for others . . . A love story then, but not sentimental, the end of a character journey. Robin’s thuggish tendency is clearly shown early on with the cold-blooded murder of a Friar (no cuddly Tuck name appended.)
The Marion in this version escapes an unwanted engagement to Prince John by escaping into the forest with her trusty clown, Pierre. Her aim is to join Robin Hood’s gang, but the overtly misogynistic Robin will have none of it. By accident Marion discovers the value of disguising herself as a boy, Martin, enabling the plot to unfold. But she is still not given an easy ride, she is truly threatened; she is an active driver of the plot with her decisions moving episodes along.
Iris Roberts rises to all the challenges of the role with consummate ease. Her swagger is effective, her swings of tone are dramatic and her humour is genuine and warm. As her reluctant side-kick, Pierre, Olafur Darri Olafsson, contributes a robust and earthy comedic warmth – a perfect bridge into the world of the play.
James McArdle’s Robin is full of testosterone driven violence; I could do with a bit less shouting in the play’s early scenes, but he grows in stature as the story moves along. His scenes with Marion/Martin are gorgeous.
Martin Hutson is a nasty and vindictive Prince John, his light vocal quality acquiring a most sinister quality. Michael Walter’s lively portray as Little John is deliciously unchivalrous and subversive. These sit among a strong acting company.
Gisli Orn Gardarsson directs with vigour and sensitivity in a wonderfully witty and effective setting by Bornkur Jonsson.
A couple of final things. First, this is a violent tale woven around violent men; the production doesn’t compromise with this. Yet the 4 and 5 year olds next to me were certainly not phased by this and were following the story with ease. Second, this is, if not a pagan tale, a tale with pagan leanings. Farr eschews Christianity in favour of the healing force of the forest. For those who are interested, additional echoes of AS YOU LIKE IT are quite magical and add another layer to this already multi-layered, wonderful entertainment focused on children.
Little John: Michael Walter
Robin Hood: James McCardle
Much: Robert Luckay
Will : Darwin Shaw
Friar: Marcello Walton
Green Man: Emma Manton
Peirre: Olafur Darri Olafsson
Makepeace: Lawrence Webber
Marion: Iris Roberts
Alice: Flora Montgomery
Prince John: Martin Hutson
Guy of Gisborne: Tim Treloar
Gisborne’s Henchman: Addis Williams
Duke of York: Tim Treloar
Jethro Summers: Bailey Fear, Jack Firth, Tom Ransford
Sarah Summers: Heather Croghan-Miksch, Isabelle Evans, mossly Pipe
Robert Summers: Marcello Walton
Plug the Dog: Peter Bray
Rebecca Summers: Fiona Lait
George LeBrun: Tim Treloar
Margaret LeBrun: Emma Manton
Lord Falconbury: Gareth Aled
Lady Falconbury: Fiona Lait
Directed by: Gisli Orn Gardarsson
Set Designed by: Borkur Jonsson
Costume Designed by: Emma Ryott
Lighting Designed by: Bjorn Helgason
Music by: Gogni Egilsson
Sound Designed by: Gregory Clarke
Associate Director and Movement by: Selma Bjornsdottir
Fights by: Kev McCurdy
Company Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare
Company Text and Voice Work by: Stephen Kemble
Assistant Director: Dan Coleman
Music Director: Candida Caldicot