sat 18/05/2024

Robin Hood The Legend Re-written, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - no bullseye for new take on familiar characters | reviews, news & interviews

Robin Hood. The Legend. Re-written, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - no bullseye for new take on familiar characters

Robin Hood. The Legend. Re-written, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - no bullseye for new take on familiar characters

New version of old story wastes talent and resources in a shambolic show

Please don't: Katherine Manners, Dumile Sibande and Marta Miranda in 'Robin Hood, The Legend. Re-written'Pamela Raith

After the pantos, the movies (epic, camp and animated) and the television series, is there anything new to be mined in the story of Robin Hood? Probably not, as this messy, misjudged show takes that hope and fires an arrow through its heart.

We’re in an Albion of misty woods, mighty castles and feudal exploitation, the King weakened by poison administered by his right hand man, Sheriff Baldwyn, whose day job is brutally extracting taxes from the peasants to build a new road for the barons (Shaun Yusuf McKee, Simon Oskarsson and TJ Holmes pictured below). He doesn’t have it all his own way: Insurgents hide out between the oaks of England raiding the Sheriff’s men, rousing the revolutionary spirit and distributing money to the benighted villagers. A new mysterious leader rises, an archer in disguise who spreads fear at court, their identity concealed by a hood. 

Robin Hood. The Legend, Re-written was probably not a good idea in the first place, but writer Carl Grose and director Melly Still never settle on a tone, veering between larky pantomime shtick and gruesome murders and executions. It gets everything wrong that Game of Thrones got right, landing somewhere between a Hammer horror 70s production and a Monty Python's Dennis Moore send-up without the jokes. That barren ground would be a tricky to navigate without dialogue that appears to have been lifted from Scooby Doo in its bland and bulldozing exposition. And you don’t get to leave the park until well after 10pm.

The cast do what they can in such torrid circumstances. Alex Mugnaioni twirls his moustache one moment as the villainous Sheriff suggesting Dick Dastardly and the next is casually mutilating peasants and ordering the execution of a ten year-old. I’m not sure that’s a stretch any actor should be expected to make. Ellen Robertson is better served in the part of his discontented wife, Marian, although her ability to move between two worlds unnoticed stretches credulity. At the same time, it's critical to a plot in which Robin himself is not so much rewritten as written out. 

Other characters are underwritten to the point of negligence. Paul Hunter gathers a few laughs as the King, but we are left none the wiser as to why he failed to realise his obvious poisoning for so long. Dumile Sibanda is a feisty, Disneyish girl heroine, Woodnut, who misses her mother and is brave in adversity, but her relationship with her father (Dave Fishley) is never developed. He insists on taking dangerous drafts of magic mushrooms, a rather lame means of accessing the supernatural world. 

Nandi Bhebhe does good work as the Balladeer, singing ethereal songs by Jenny Moore, the best element of the show. Why Little Joan the jester (Charlotte Beaumont, taking inspiration from Harley Quinn) was afflicted by stage fright, I do not know, nor how the daughter of a starving woman rose to become the Sheriff’s secretary either. But the plot is packed with such inconsistencies, so it’s probably best not to dwell on such matters.  

Clearly money has been spent on the production. Te costumes by Samuel Wyer lend much-needed period authenticity (offsetting the now overly familiar use of 21st century language in the script, one of several Hamilton echoes in the show), and there are special effects that, though overused, work well. So quite why the outlaws run around with two sticks representing a bow and arrow like we’re in a primary school hall indulging the Year 6 kids is beyond me, particularly as a beheading is portrayed with gruesome verisimilitude, Macbeth elbowing its way into a Carry-On environment. Sure, real bows and arrows might present a health and safety challenge, but this is professional theatre in a prestigious venue, as the prices attest.

Sometimes the ambition (as evidenced in the title) proves too much, the concept, execution and delivery jarring, no harmony to be found between the disparate elements. Perhaps some will enjoy this radical take on the legend, others its very strange sense of humour, and there's always a market for a heavy-handed political message for today’s descendents of the English peasantry. But I suspect most men (and women) will be anything but merry after a show that repeatedly takes aim - and misses.

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