A new musical about Robin Hood. Where better to première it than at the Marks Hall Arboretum deep in the heart of the Essex countryside? Cambridge Touring Theatre are back on form with this musical romp which held the interest of both children and adults with its mixture of comedy, audience participation, brisk dialogue exchanges and enough sharpness in Barry Evans’ lyrics to earn grown-up chuckles at some of the allusions. Elizabeth Glass’ costumes are eye-catching with the bright colours and exaggerated shapes one associates with medieval illustration.
It’s axiomatic for this kind of play that the baddies attract more audience reaction than the good characters. So Robert Paice as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Cheryl Felgate as an extremely secular Abbess almost steal the show from Damian Robinson’s carrot-haired Robin and Sasha Jacques’ feisty Marian. Villains require henchmen, of course, and here they are Rodney Tosh (the tall one, doubling King Richard and a not-so-Little John) and Simon Balcon (the short one with a nice line in juggling and visual comedy who also plays Friar Tuck, once an inn-owner – but those premises are now occupied by a certain well-known coffee bar chain…).
The catchy tunes are by Simon Humphreys and provide a charming duet for Robin ans Marian as well as ensemble numbers. There’s one slightly over-long exposition of the plot’s background which could be trimmed back with advantage but otherwise Evans keeps the story fast-moving with its blend of the familiar and the off-kilter. I particularly liked the archery contest with the arrows in flight being passed from one cast member to another before landing dead on target and right in the middle of the bull’s-eye.