Most of us know the legend of Robin Hood, the gallant medieval outlaw of noble birth, who lived in Sherwood Forest with his band of merry men and his lady, Maid Marian, ambushing the rich to give the spoils to the poor, and defying his arch enemy, the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Full marks then to writer Darren Ormandy for taking this fresh look at the story, that’s exciting, funny, thought-provoking and even scary in all the right proportions. His Robin is a war-weary veteran of the Crusades, Norman by birth who has a hard time convincing Saxon Little John (sympathetic Martin Pirongs) that they’re on the same side. In Tom Peters’ charismatic performance, Robin swashes and buckles with the best, but he also has real depth. The spark between him and Jennifer Matter’s adorably tomboyish Marian, engaging in thrilling hand-to-hand fighting, is all the more believable, when they reveal they’re man and wife – thanks to an arranged marriage when they were eight years old!
All the much-loved characters appearing here are similarly fleshed out with imaginative back stories. Angus Brown’s loveable Friar Tuck starts out as a confidence trickster and only the lure of good ale and vittles makes him come good. Richard Evans’ twinkling Much the Miller’s son is the now ageing faithful family retainer, still wracked with guilt for failing to save the outlaw’s sister from slavery. Seamus Allen’s hilarious Alan-a-Dale takes his minstrelsy so seriously he fancies himself as both playwright and director, telling us the story as play within a play. And his staging of an inept entertainment for the Sheriff as a tactical diversion, rivals Shakespeare’s Pyramus and Thisbe.
The baddies are so bad they’re good. Scott Brooksbank may be a ruthless Sheriff, but he’s also funny – and almost likeable if it weren’t for an unlovely penchant for torture and slaughter. Eleanor Montgomery’s dark Lady Gisburne is more than a match for him, not just for her black magical powers, but for her extraordinarily commanding presence. Her part in the denouement - and unexpectedly sad ending - is genuinely terrifying thanks to terrific scenic effects that work brilliantly as darkness falls.
Philip D'Orleans’ fight choreography Cleo Pettitt’s many-levelled set enhances the greenwood setting and Jon Boden’s glorious English folk tunes, beautifully harmonised by the cast, wonderfully realise the ancient forest folk lore of the Green Man – a magical presence to rival Tolkien’s Treebeard. Warmly recommended for people of all ages who love a good story.