Seconds after we’re asked to turn off our mobile phones we’re swept up in the business of making venison pasties, in merry song and dance, fire twirling, juggling, and happy nuptials – and within a few minutes more, in skulduggery, sword fights and a crashing chandelier. There’s never a quiet moment in the New Vic’s corner of the mediaeval midlands.
Theresa Heskins has a gold-star reputation for her mid-winter shows adapted
from familiar stories. She starts with the basics of the plot we expect, throws
in multiple surprises, weaves it together with imaginative music, and creates a
super seasonal entertainment for all the family.
And so we follow Robin as he recruits his familiar band: cheeky Much the miller’s son, Will Scarlet, and Little John -- in a fight to cross the stream which is beautifully achieved on stage. There are impressive costumes, plenty of convincing swordplay, and some pretty tricky archery. For the theatrical surprises, you’ll have to try and get a ticket and see them for yourself.
Underneath all this action, the show has a multitude of themes for youngsters to get their teeth into.
There’s the fight for individual rights and justice; revenge; the “female virtues of meekness, mildness and obedience” challenged by a Marian who becomes bored through lack of adventure and positively swaggers with valour. And there’s that ever-radical notion “to take from those who have too much and give to those who have not enough.”
From where I sat, Bryn Holding as Tuck was a dead ringer for George Osborne. Not a rebellious friar this time round, but a grasping treasurer hauling along the royal tax hoard looking for more hungry people to squeeze.
Heskins has put the Magna Carta at the heart of her show, literally -- chunks of it are readable through the litter of the forest floor. This year is the 800th anniversary of its signing and that makes a good hook, though she does take liberties (pardon the pun) with its relevance for ordinary folk. The ‘power to the people’ sense of this Robin Hood, with its raised fists and refrain of “when our voices are united we are strong” seems to have more in common with Les Miserables and the ideals of the French Revolution.
I saw the show in a performance for schools, and a teacher told me that her pupils would be working in class around things in the show that most engaged them – though she doubted if the Magna Carta would be one of them.
I’d like to bet a memorable scene for some will be King John preening himself while telling his mother “A hero’s what they need.” Seconds later he’s winged by an arrow from Marian and screeches “Mummy it hurts!”
This is the same royal who eyed up Marian earlier in the day and decided “A royal baby… that would cheer them up.” Like I said, there’s something in this show for everyone.
By John Hargreaves