A balmy summer sunset with a sumptuous picnic hamper and the sparkling ocean on the horizon seems like the perfect setting for an evening of open-air theatre.
Proudly billed as the UK's biggest outdoor walkabout theatre event, The Dukes enjoys a reputation for producing outstanding exterior productions that have attracted almost 500,000 people over 26 years. And with the opening drumbeat echoed palpable excitement and we began our journey through the beautiful forests and mysterious dells of Williamson Park.
Back by popular demand following a year's hiatus when finances weighed heavy and The Dukes was forced to suspend its annual walkabout production, this new adaptation of Robin Hood written by Kevin Dyer, winner of the 2010 Writers Guild of Great Britain Award for Best Play for Children and Young People, and directed by Joe Sumsion challenges the traditional folk lore and hopes to engage with contemporary audiences by combining romance, morality, and adventure.
But sadly this is an ambitious interpretation that never quite reaches its full potential and struggles to adapt into an identifiable genre. Vast adventure and dramatic experience is plentiful but the littering of political nuances, over-analysed injustices and Macbethian references proffer a narrative too mature and disjointed for the family audience it is aimed at.
Noel White lacks conviction in the lead role and Loren O'Dair's dysfunctional Marian of the Forest is charmless and predictable which convenes a greater ambivalence than the feisty heroine figure we are hoping to root for. The reliably comedic Tucky (Sue McCormick) and abrasive Scarlet (Lauren Silver) are the only capable scene stealing duo who place less worth on progressing the lilting plot than they do on their extrinsic harmonies.
The most impressive cast member is indeed the play's stunning scenery which is coupled with the flawless sound production and impressive technical designs successfully creates a wondrously dystopian world at each carefully considered location, enabling the audience to seamlessly integrate into each new scene.
Part play, part pantomime with long summer evenings set to continue Robin Hood is an epic experience that has already had its season run extended.