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Robin Hood

by on 14 December 2019

On target

Robin Hood

by Ben Crocker

Questors Theatre at the Judi Dench Playhouse, until 31 December

A review by Matthew Grierson

You’ve surely all heard the proverbial advice actors are given never to work with children or animals – but whoever devised that pearl of wisdom had not seen Questors’ polished troupe of prodigies and puppeteers.

If you think Emerson Baigent as Alan-A-Dale is fresh-faced as he saunters down from door 1 like some Vegas crooner, he looks positively middle-aged when he is joined on stage by five infants in super-cute woodland creature costumes giving a charming dance to welcome us to Sherwood. The ensemble soon swells in number in a knowing rendition of Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I do’ … Although we are thankfully spared the entire song when the kids demand something more current and perform an impressively choreographed routine to ‘Shotgun’ by George Ezra.

The song and dance takes a momentary breather for the small matter of introducing us to the principals. Lisa Morris gives us an earnest, plucky Robin, but does allow herself some comic latitude, in particular when disguised as ‘Rory MacTavish’ for the archery contest, or being smacked repeatedly in the face by a dungeon door.

Robin_Hood_Lisa_Morris

Given the backstory of having to avenge the death of her father, meanwhile, Francesca Young’s Little Joan seems to spend most of the play scowling, but is sensibly paired throughout with Mike Hadjipateras as a comically peckish Friar Tuck. Completing the gang of goodies is Lily Ledwith as Maid Marion, who alternates between plucky helpmeet to Robin and stroppy teenager when dealing with her elders in the castle.

Stealing the acting plaudits, however, not to mention the money of Nottingham’s citizens, are the baddies. Kerri Logan clearly relishes the part of Sheriff, visibly drawing energy from the audience’s booing and hissing to propel her through a succession of songs, including repurposed versions of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Yesterday’.

Robin_Hood_Sheriff

There’s also something Thatcherian in the way she summons her henchman Dennis; although apart from this and Robin’s refrain of ‘wealth redistribution’ there is a surprising absence of topical references – which depending on your political perspective is either a missed opportunity or a blessed relief. Dennis himself, William Connor, earns our sympathy in the way that only a put-upon underling can, and there’s a joyful childishness in his squabbles with the Sheriff not to mention a tremendous three-way rap battle with Robin.

This makes it especially appropriate that, like Joan and Tuck, the villains have to go back to school – although unlike the two Merry Men, they are there to pursue a nefarious plan. For the dastardly duo are disguised as schoolgirls to bump off rich orphan twins Tilly and Tommy (Jian Andany and Logan Surman), who in contrast to the childish grown-ups put in a precociously mature performance. The set-piece classroom scene is a showcase of all that’s wonderful about the production, with the slapstick of Sheriff and Dennis, the silliness of Tuck and Joan, and the well-behaved smartness of the actual children, who, bless them, even wheel their own desks on and off.

Presiding over the school, and giving arguably the largest performance of the evening, is James Goodden as a peerless dame, Winnie Widebottom. The bluff Winnie is not only nanny to Marion, Tilly and Tommy but, among her many impressive costume changes, schoolmarm, singer and the spinning ‘volunteer’ attached to the target for Robin’s arrows, one among many of this production’s feats of stagecraft.

Robin_Hood_Dame

As you’d expect from Questors’ shows, production values are universally excellent. The thrust stage has been withdrawn to allow more room for families in the stalls – all the better for audience participation, my dear – and leaves the stage as a forest clearing into which various parts of Nottingham Castle, and their occupants, are wheeled with surprising ease.

In this space, the lighting washes signal clear changes of mood, and there are devilish cues of red to accompany the Sheriff’s villainous stings. Also among the simple but effective scenery are several tree trunks, through holes in which a pair of cheeky rabbits puppeteered by Shaan Latif-Shaikh will pop now and again to offer a smart comment on proceedings, before crying ‘Back to the burrow!’ in terror when someone threatens to make them into pie. Other scenery tricks include a prison tower that opens to reveal Tilly and Tommy’s bedroom with a window onto the approaching villains behind, and a skeleton chained to the wall in Robin’s cell that manages to dance along with the ensemble to a lively version of ‘Jailhouse Rock’.

The costumes, made by an ensemble extensive as that on stage, are not only handsome but also many and various, and they all sport dedicated violet and white attire for the wedding–walkdown at the end – yes, even, panto pony Mabel (Dotti Lawson and Zoë Ledwith-Hoult). No wonder, then, that the musical numbers are so frequent as most of the cast seem to be trading togs between each appearance.

It’s to the credit of director Pam Redrup and assistant Dani Hagan Beckett that they keep the pace as taut as Robin’s bowstrings throughout, making for a hit – a very palpable hit.

Matthew Grierson
December 2019

Photography © Rishi Rai

 

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