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With the summer heat wave making the great outdoors a desirable place to be, the recent production of Robin Hood in Williamson Park by The Dukes theatre has been drawing in the crowds to spend a pleasant evening in the sunshine. SCAN had the pleasure of being invited along to join the walkabout theatre, which encourages the audience to be swept away in the drama and danger of a modernised Robin Hood.
Director Joe Sumsion claims he wanted to make the production suitable for modern audiences, whilst capturing the essence of the traditional Robin Hood story, “romance, a moral tale, justice being served, lots of adventure – and combine that with some big twists”. I’m not sure how many “big twists” this version of Robin Hood contained, bar some tweaking of the traditional characters and lots of screeching 1984-esque technology; but it was certainly an experience. As a huge fan of Disney’s cartoon animal version of Robin Hood, and Jonas Armstrong’s sullen good looks on the recent BBC series, my stereotypical view of Robin Hood involves daring young men dashing around woodland in forest green tights. This production was almost as good, although I feel the script weakened it. For example, the unnecessary references to Macbeth I found particularly irritating. At the beginning of the performance we were greeted by several hooded figures chanting the witches’ “double double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble”. Whilst I appreciated the suspense of a smoking cauldron and some rhythmic chanting, it had absolutely nothing to do with Robin Hood and felt somewhat out of place.
The acting, however, was flawless. The programme quotes our very own Dr Liz Oakley-Brown, a senior lecturer in English and Creative writing. She claims that the role of Maid Marian features prominently in many versions of the story, but in Kevin Dyer’s reworking of the tale she becomes a feisty character whose relationship with Robin is based on “mutual admiration and tolerance” as opposed to the traditional romantic partnership which relies on Robin being the gallant hero who often rescues Marian. Loren O’Dair’s portrayal of Marian is certainly a far cry from the traditional stereotype.
In a similar fashion to O’Dair’s more independent Marian, the decision to cast a female, Ruth D’Silva, as the Sheriff gives the production an interesting twist. Especially as D’Silva is a petite woman with flowing dark hair and an honest face, it gives the plot a dark dimension in that such a beautiful woman could be a brutally cruel tyrant to her people. My only complaint with D’Silva’s character comes again from the plot of the story. I feel like in the script writer’s eagerness to keep the story accessible to adults and children alike, it misses opportunities to shine. For example, D’Silva was incredibly convincing and beguiling during act four, as she emphasised that the harsh confines of the law were necessary to ensure the safety and happiness of England. I found it hard to stomach that such a persuasive, intelligent character could be tricked and frightened into submission so easily by some tricks of the light and tales of ghosts. It may seem like a small complaint to make, but this easy solution to the tyranny of the Sheriff made the conclusion of the play something of an anti-climax. That and D’Silva’s second role as Rosie, the wife who was apparently kidnapped, caused a little bit of confusion. Costumes and make-up failed to transform D’Silva and led to some baffled children nearby in the audience asking their parents why the Sheriff was suddenly “not the baddie now”.
Another striking female in this production who deserves to be acknowledged was Scarlett, played by Lauren Silver. Silver was a cheeky member of Marian’s gang, with an interesting mask permanently attached to her face and a tragic back story of parents cruelly repressed by the sheriff. Her voice wasn’t half bad either. I particularly enjoyed Lisa Howard’s interpretation of Tucky – or Friar Tuck in the traditional stories – as there’s nothing quite like a brisk, broad northerner to make you feel at home.
I’ve mostly talked about the women of the performance, but it also has to be said the men were just as good. I found Guido, the Sheriff’s right-hand man, particularly endearing, although I think the audience were supposed to loathe him for his role in the evil. Noel White was your usual dashing, charming Robin Hood – with a brave heart and a talent for wooing the ladies. All the cast were fantastic with audience interaction as well, one of my favourite points being Robin asking for food and an audience member yelling “’ere, do you want a doughnut?”. Scarlet’s stripping of a seemingly random audience member also had me gasping with horror and amusement, as well as relief, since at one point she was standing directly behind me and I was praying she wasn’t singling me out to take the stage. There are few things in life more evil than audience participation.
Professional actors aside, The Dukes’ theatre have striven to make the experience a community occasion, forming a Community Company composed of young people from in and around the area as an opportunity “to be in the spotlight of a nationally recognised production” or even “a step towards a professional theatre career”. Most notably, The Dukes’ claim Coronation Street actor Cherylee Houston participated in a production of Treasure Island in 1991 and has gone on to enjoy a successful career. Personally, I would have loved to see County College graduate Andy Serkiss performing in The Dukes’ outdoor version A Midsummer Night’s Dream back during his time at Lancaster in 1987 – one can only hope that The Dukes’ continue to attract and nourish local talent.
Overall, The Dukes production of Robin Hood in Williamson Park is not to be missed. In particular I feel Mark Meville, Music and Sound Designer, and Brent Lees, Lighting and Technical Sound Designer, should be acknowledged for their incredible work in utilising the space provided and creating breath-taking scenery; I have to say one of the biggest credits to the production is the hard work of the technical team in enhancing the natural beauty of Williamson Park. In particular, Sumsion’s decision to use Ashton Memorial as the Sheriff’s compound is one of the most impressive and memorable features of the production.
Robin Hood runs until Saturday 17th August, student ticket prices vary from £13.50 – £18.00