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ROBIN HOOD The Legend. Re-Written at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Forget Glastonbury, the most enthralling open-air live dramatic music festival is happening right here in London at the magical, mystical and truly majestic Open Air Theatre Regent’s Park. Moreover in alighting upon the myth of Robin Hood the creative team at Regent’s Park have found the perfect vehicle with which to explore all the issues that mean so much to us in 2023. I mean class inequality, gender and race. But also climate change and the preservation of the environment.

But before you think ‘worthy social drama’, think again. Because this show is nothing if not exhilarating, enthralling and entertaining. I loved it. The setting is just perfect for the theme. Robin Hood is after all set in a forest. As if by magic the footprint of the theatre in a park, at the foot of a hillock, protected by trees and open to the sky is a match made in heaven. And when dusk fell last night as the show entered its finale I found it hard to distinguish between dream and reality, fact and fantasy, conscious and unconscious, it really was a midsummer night’s dream. It was a night that embodied all that is unique and unmatched about the live performing arts.

Dumile Sibanda (Woodnut) and Ira Mandela Siobhan (Gisburne). Photoby Pamela Raith.
Dumile Sibanda (Woodnut) and Ira Mandela Siobhan (Gisburne). Photoby Pamela Raith.

This show is a melange of social history, environmental consciousness, satire, feminism and politics. Director Melly Still wants to know, Who Owns England? Eng- LAND. Who owns the land? In that sense, the play has echoes of Jazz Butterworth’s Jerusalem. The forest becomes a metaphor. England/Forest. Forest/England. They are one and the same. The battle to control the forest stands in for the battle to control England.

The Robin Hood myth clearly articulates this struggle. The common people in the forest resisting and robbing the forces of the Barons. The Barons wanting to cut down the forest to build a road. Shades of HS2? But the play goes beyond this human conflict to explore the, as it were, the resistance of the forest to the human presence. This is a play that raises the uncomfortable awareness that we as human beings are in a life-or-death struggle with the forest. The Forest Vs Us. This is one of the ways in which the legend has been rewritten as a story about our time.

We human beings have become the baddies not just the wicked Barons. The haunting musical soundscape which matches the mystical landscape – wonderfully realised by Jenny Moore – gives us an unconscious feel for the forest as a living organism. As we know trees do in fact communicate with each other. This is marvellously visualised in the set. Under the stage we see tree roots weaving together to form a complex network. The fibres used to make these roots are the same fibres deployed to capture outlaws. From this point of view, climate change trumps class, gender and race. If we have no planet every other issue becomes irrelevant. It is in this sense that Robin Hood the Legend has been rewritten for our time.

But that doesn’t stop the show from having fun articulating and disarticulating class, gender and race. The play is marvellously inventive and original in turning our expectations around. So Little John becomes Little Joan. Friar Tuck becomes Mary Tuck. Maid Marian becomes Marian. The Merry Men become Merry. And where you might well ask is Robin Hood in all this? To answer that you’ll have to see the play. Needless to say, it’s hilarious and unexpected. On the 75th anniversary of the Windrush docking at Tilbury Docks, it was wonderful to see actors of colour in all roles. From Nandi Bhebhe’s Balladeer/Jenny to Dave Fishley as Bob Much the Miller to Samuel Gosrani as Will Scatlocke to Taya Ming as a music/guard/villager to Dumile Sibanda as Woodnut to Ira Mandela Siobhan as the monstrous Gisburne to Elexi Walker as Mary Tuck. These are all superb actors playing a diverse range of characters, minor, major, goodies, and baddies. Enough said.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

Think you know the story of Robin Hood? Think again.

Prepare for a thrilling new take on the classic tale, set in a desperate, divided kingdom where only the truly cunning can outwit the sheriff’s terrifying wrath. Promising humour, heart and a forest full of secrets, expect the arrows to fly in a bold new direction as trickery and truth collide with fiery results.

Told with epic storytelling, stirring songs, and absolutely no green tights (well, maybe just a flash), in the ancient, wooded heart of Regent’s Park, Robin Hood is a riotous folk tale for our times.

CAST
Charlotte Beaumont – Little Joan
Nandi Bhebhe – Balladeer/Jenny
Amena Alicia El-kindy – Musician
Dave Fishley – Bob Much
Stephanie Marion Fayerman – Betty
Samuel Gosrani – Will Scatlocke
TJ Holmes – Brasswilt/Robin Hood
Paul Hunter – King
Katherine Manners – Simpkins
Shaun Yusuf McKee – Brokebrick/Robin Hood/Guard/Villager
Taya Ming – Musician
Marta Miranda – Musician
Alex Mugnaioni – Baldwyn
Simon Oskarsson – Boneweather/Robin Hood/Guard/Villager
Ellen Robertson – Marian
Dumile Lindiwe Sibanda – Woodnut
Ira Mandela Siobhan – Gisburne
Elexi Walker – Mary Tuck

CREATIVE TEAM
Mike Ashcroft – Movement Director
John Bulleid – Illusion Designer
Joley Cragg – Musical Director
Mauricio Elorriaga – Associate Set Designer
Poppy Franziska – Associate Director
Carl Grose – Writer
James Hassett – Associate Sound Designer
Polly Jerrold – Casting Director
Emma Laxton – Sound Designer
Ingrid Mackinnon – Season Associate: Intimacy Support
Jenny Moore – Composer, Musical Supervisor & Additional Lyrics
Jeannette Nelson – Voice & Text Director
Deirdre O’Halloran – Dramaturg
Zoe Spurr – Lighting Designer
Chiara Stephenson – Set Designer
Melly Still – Director
Olivia Walters – Associate Set Designer
Samuel Wyer – Costume Designer

ROBIN HOOD
The Legend. Re-written.
17 June 2023 – 22 July 2023

Related News & Reviews Past & Present

  1. Robin Hood – Guildford Shakespeare Company – 13th Open-Air Season
  2. As You Like It at Regents Park Open Air Theatre | Review
  3. Review: The Valour of Robin Hood – Abney Park Cemetery
  4. Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Review
  5. Robin Hood at The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch | Review

Author

  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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