Brighton Fringe 2018
The birds are singing and the mist is still heavy in the air. The BOAT staff are wandering with cups of tea whilst families are trickling into the amphitheatre with provisions and comfort. The cast are seen preparing for the show in a relaxed medieval composure, whilst swashbuckling music is being played preparing us for an adventure of the well known myth of Robin Hood. There is clearly no need for a fourth wall here. As the actors rally into the first scene we are drawn into the genre of summer pantomime and farce with expectations of interaction from the audience. A refreshing and exhilarating permission for family members to not observe but get involved.
Director James Weisz of JW Productions (formally the artistic director of 88 London Road) continues on his quest to engage families and children in theatre in his relaxed and teasing style that entertains through extravagant exaggerated stock characters, physical humour and deliberate use of absurdity to spin a story.
This famous legend unfolded with many ballads in two acts with six principle actors supported by a band of children and young people doubling up as Robin’s Merry Men and the Sheriff of Nottingham’s soldiers. Richard the Lionheart the King of England in the 12th century is away fighting in the crusades whilst Richards treacherous brother Prince John seizes the throne by force and proceeds to oppress the Saxons by high taxes controlled by the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Robin Hood has opposed Prince John and whilst taking refuge in Sherwood Forest begins to meet others who have suffered at the hands of the current oppression of the Sheriff. A plan is thus hatched to not only steal from the rich to give to the poor but in this version the plot shifts from Robin Hood tricking soldiers in order to humiliate the Sheriff to the Sheriff thinking he is one step ahead to only be humiliated over and over again resulting in the King of England’s return and the marriage of Robin to Marian.
We first meet the Sheriff’s two soldiers who deftly portray how clearly they are useless at capturing the outlawed Robin. Robin as he appears is aptly warm, charismatic and playful with the audience and his fellow cast members. His performance was bold and striking with a voice that carried the narrative with ease and strength. Next up is the Sheriff of Nottingham as he teased the audience with his villainous presence, high status stature of Nobility and playful booming voice. A remarkable portrayal of the Sheriff who clearly ‘fed’ from the audience to boost his wickedness. We meet Little John whose performance brings a sense of surety and stability as he filled the space and Friar Tuck who carried the pantomime convention of the ‘dame’ into the space whipping up a healthy dose of pathos to carry with his rather large pie and tankards of ale. Maid Marion was the most able sword player and fighter as she heightened the climatic scenes energetically and with commendable skill. There were times during other sword and pole fight scenes where there was clear choreographed moments yet they lacked confident dramatic gusto.
This is no easy feat, performing in an open air amphitheatre. All the actors are to be commended for their use of the space through the show as they moved the entire circumference weaving between the audience. Supported by a most enthusiastic chorus of younger actors who held their own in the adversity of their powerful counterparts.
The staging consisted of straw bales that were strategically placed in formation to punctuate each scene swiftly moved by the supporting cast. There were banners placed on the edges marking different houses of the time. Two gazebos were placed centre stage rear that would of best served the era by being dressed for the 12th century. The costumes of the principle actors were beautiful and accentuated each characters status and profile.
The audience responses from the very young to the older generations throughout the play were enchanting. Small children with their grandparents were outraged by the references the Sheriff was making to the ‘common people’. Their were rumblings of political responses to that of Teresa May and Donald Trump in the Sheriffs manifesto to create a land of higher taxes. This universal plight of medieval theatre to deal with changes in socio-economic climates felt relevant for today. This bridging experience transported the audience from the present to the 12th century of what it might of felt like catching a play in a medieval market.
The Adventures of Robin Hood used physical humour and deliberate absurdity pulling on the responses of the audience to offer additional text that was both sharp, impromptu and outright funny. Comic timing was in the moment and the acting was of a high standard.
A highly recommended show for the family to round off the half term.