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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Robin Hood

Eric Davis, Matthew Kabwe and Tamara Brown

Sherwood Forest 2.0
by Nanette Soucy

Legends and folklore are manna for tellers of children’s tales. Since we understand that any facts in their narratives and characters are stretched at best, at worst, entirely made-up, and often appropriated from whatever influences were blowing in the wind through which the last teller told them, the stories that are passed to us through books, place names and ballads continue to resonate with us throughout the centuries precisely because of, and not despite, the circuitous telephone game involved in their relaying.

There are lots of bits to Robin Hood. Since this is not a story that is passed down to us with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but more in bits and pieces gathered from rituals, songs and tradition, like a Pantomime, there are a couple of basic elements necessary to make it recognizable: We’ll need bows and arrows, trees, a merry band of misfits, a puckish rogue, and an evil sheriff bent on ruthlessly suppressing the peasantry. That’s it. The rest is just detail, bits and pieces added on and altered over the course of the near millenia that this hero has been a part of western consciousness. The moor, the maid, the King, the Friar, the Crusades, the details of Robin’s noble bloodline,  are all elements that have been woven into the tale at different times in order to make it appeal to the audience to which it was presented. It is in these details that director Dean Fleming and playwright Paula Wing bring the tale of this Prince of Thieves, this Man in Tights, to the urban, 21st century stage.

If Geordie’s production of Robin Hood has one fault, it may be that it’s too rich.

There are a lot of named characters that audiences will recognize in this story. Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, Guy of Guisborne, the Sherrif of Nottingham, Richard the Lionheart, among others. There is also a lot of story. As is the way with these meandering legends, the challenge of cramming as much of the story and its beloved characters into an hour long family-friendly running time is tackled creatively by Geordie Productions, surprisingly, not by eliminating characters, so much as by combining them. There really is no reason for meanies Guisborne and the Sherrif not to be one and the same, and so they are. In this version, we never meet an Azeem, Moorish protector and great figure of loyalty and friendship, but, in keeping with Geordie’s tradition of diverse casting, we find Azeem’s important qualities divvied up between Robin Hood’s fiercest ally Little John (Matthew Kabwe) and the object of his desires, Maid Marian (Tamara Brown).

If Geordie’s production of Robin Hood has one fault, it may be that it’s too rich. We spend so much time watching Marian grapple with the world’s inability to see past her beauty, that we don’t see very much of her ass kicking. We spend much time on Midge’s cunning and little on her compassion. We are treated to such political jargon from the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John about kings, yeomans and wars, on power struggles and keeping the peasants down, that we don’t get to see precisely how the Merry Men are grouping together to form a community of their own. While we are treated to notions of Hood’s men working towards a better world for all, as an audience, we witness very little stealing from the rich or giving to the poor, while we are treated to truly delicious relationships and their development throughout the course of the piece.

In another contemporizing twist, Wing adds to the depth and complexity of the Robin Hood legend by introducing new characters not otherwise part of the tale we know and love. Midge, the miller’s daughter, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen to Richard the Lionheart, stand out among these as bringing a new feminine perspective to what was once exclusively a tale of the wacky adventures of, well, Merry Men. Pixar’s Brave brought us Merida, whetting the appetite of today’s young girls for medieval female characters who can kick some ass, and Geordie’s Robin Hood follows suit, introducing us to three women who each kick ass in their own way. Queen Eleanor rules with uncompromising  ascendancy in the absence of her husband, and much to the dismay of her petulant son Prince John, stands her ground. Midge, plucky but plain, wields her sword and smarts with aplomb, yet goes unnoticed in her peasantry. Marian, on the other hand, an accomplished herbalist and swordsman, has her talents overshadowed by her stunning beauty. The challenges faced by these women are those faced by women and girls even centuries later; to define ourselves by ourselves, not by our looks or the men in our lives, but on our passions and the ferocity with which we pursue them.

Robin Hood continues to December 16


  1. terrific...another review that spends its time explaining how clever and knowledgable the reviewer is and leaves little room for what actually transpired on stage. Congrats you are very should have watched the show...

  2. I believe the reviewer was giving the piece serious consideration for a readership that may or may not see theatre for young people as inconsequential. Too bad you didn't understand that.

  3. I rarely enter into conversations about reviews- especially on a play I worked on- but I feel like I want to here.

    I agree with Al entirely. This is not a theatre review but rather reads like a paper on what the reviewer knows of the myth of Robin Hood. There is so little content here that has anything to do with the production. It feels like it could have been written without seeing the play but rather by reading the program and seeing the list of characters.

    I have a real issue with a review that doesn’t comment on the work of the actors and not a word about the design elements? It just doesn’t comment on the work on stage. This is one of the larger shows that audiences will see in Montreal this year but no one could possibly know that from this review. If I read this review the only thing that makes me want to go or not is if I am a literary fan of the myth of Robin Hood. There is nothing theatrical at all and I just don’t understand that.

    Personally, I take issue with the suggestion that I replaced the moor character from the myths with the two black actors. Really? That’s embarrassing to be honest.

    Gaetan, as for giving the piece serious consideration for a readership that may or may not take Theatre for young Audiences seriously… then review the play not the story. We have worked desperately to create the best theatre in the city. We fight against the perceptions of theatre for young audiences being less than “real” constantly. I can’t possibly understand how this review could help in that capacity. If I knew nothing of this production or Geordie and read this review I would not be running out to buy tickets.
    Good review or bad review, whatever... but review the play.

    Dean Fleming

  4. Wow, Geordie creates the best theatre in the city? I had no idea. What a modest company as well!I guess it wouldn't be the first time a director was pissed off because a review didn't make people "run out and buy tickets." Yes the review was inadequate and uninformative to the reader when it comes to the content of your play. But to bitch and whine about it in a public forum is sour grapes and bush league behavior. Stick to putting on the "best theatre in the city". You've been around for 30 years grow up, no one wants to hear about your struggles.

  5. So C., you agree that the review was "inadequate and uninformative" but somehow find that it's "to bitch and whine" when the director of the play mentions it? Hardly constructive. If the director's input is what shocks you, then you can focus on Al's first comment and the response to it. Otherwise, I don't see your input as contributing to the discussion.

    For what it's worth, I also agree that the reviewer did not seem to review the play as much as the version of the story being told here. There is some character analysis (and some of that misplaced at best, offensive at worst) but little said on the actual performances, set, costume, music, lighting or anything else actually shown or heard.

    Not all reviews cover every single point, of course. But I think a review should give you an idea of what to expect. Or if the reviewer liked or disliked the play (and, hopefully, why).


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