Robin Hood and the Arrow of Destiny continues at Theatre Royal, York until 2 September.
Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩
Richard Hurford’s mash-up of the Robin Hood legend using rap music, Avenue Q-style puppetry, American sports commentators and Chinese dragons left me increasingly bewildered about just what was going on.
One theme that is clear is that Siobhan Athwal’s Maid Marian is redressing the gender bias of the original legend as she shoots the arrow that wins the archery competition, dresses as a boy (even slapping her thighs in best panto tradition) and disposes of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Yet she still ends up as the damsel in a dress with marriage her only option.
She supplements her adventuring by belting out some lively songs, Her considerable stage presence highlights the irony of a show that has Robin Hood’s name in the title, not the more active and intelligent Marian Fitzwalter. Point taken.
Stage debutant Neil Reynolds does not appear on-stage for the first half hour of the show. He occasionally appears a little out of his depth, but plays Robin as a likeable lad who is rather slow on the uptake and lacking in any heroic aspirations.
His crises of conscience trouble him most whenever Marian does something, and he gets the credit. He just wants to be left alone with his merry men and a life in Sherwood.
Far more at home in the genre is John Elkington as the villainous Sheriff. His blank stares at the audience elicit the required hisses and boos.
Indeed, his roguery is ratcheted up to the point where he delights in oppressing the villagers (‘Steal From the Poor’) for its own sake, not for the tax money, and sacrificing his nephew Guy of Gisbourne (Ed Thorpe, who is also musical director) when it suits his turn.
The music and lyrics by Rob Castell provide commentary on the storyline and move the plot forward, as you would expect.
However, less effective a ploy is having the peasants, dressed in medieval clothing, singing rap and twerking.
Jane Linz Roberts’ set design is unobtrusive, but supportive of the action. Peasant cottages give way to a green canopy with an impressive Oak King (voiced by Jo Servi) trundling on and off while dispensing homely wisdom.
Theatrical effects used to illustrate characters being devoured onstage by a dragon (!) are very successful and are relished by the children.