Intent on their crusade of creating accessible, inspiring theatrical experiences, this season's festive offering from the Octagon Theatre Bolton is bang on trend with its contemporary adaptation of the legendary adventure story Robin Hood, an interactive family production without a traditional pantomime cliché in sight.
Deep within Sherwood Forest, three children, keen to avoid the boredom of a family camping holiday, are searching for an adventure. When they are transported back in time to help the infamous outlaw lead his band of merry men to victory over the greedy clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham, they realise that teamwork, loyalty and good intentions can triumph over bureaucracy.
The intimacy of a production in the round immediately sends the action coursing through the veins of the audience. Actors make optimum use of the space and the intricate set design — a woodland adventure playground — really brings the story, particularly the well-choreographed stage combat, to life. The audience are kept involved throughout and under the tutelage of Robin Hood they become part of an ambush mission.
Directed by acclaimed new writing award-winner Elizabeth Newman, Robin Hood features a talented cast of actor-musicians. Whimsical musical interludes are weaved seamlessly through the narrative to keep the story light and engaging.
Christopher Villiers is outstanding as the Sheriff and flexes his thespoids with a ‘massive over-reaction' of comic endearment and witty repartee. Jamie Baughan's Little John and Maid Marian (Krupa Pattani) both deliver strong performances and there are plaudits for the young cast of Hoods and Merry Men, all local performers who have trained through the Octagon's promising youth company. But unfortunately, despite his fervent energy, Marc Small in the title role brings such vociferous arrogance to the piece that it makes it difficult to root for our hero, when pitted against the charms of his henchman.
This is an enjoyable family experience that really does offer something for all ages. And if the performance alone doesn't exude mirth and merriment, you can join in with post-show carols around the piano to round off your evening.
Robin Hood is at the Octagon Theatre (Bolton) until 11 January.
- Sarah Bloomer