I make no apologies for this being an unreservedly positive review. The Heart of Robin Hood is yet another feather in the cap of the Royal Shakespeare Company – a top quality piece of family entertainment with all the theatrical magic and excitement that audiences love at this (and any other) time of year.
David Farr has reimagined the folklore surrounding Robin Hood and created a script full of invention, intelligence and vibrant characters. It could have been so easy just to fall back on what we think we know about this folk hero – but Farr and the rest of the creative team have put together a fresh new tale that will live on long after this production has closed.
Alongside the brilliance of the script, we are treated to one of the most imaginative set designs that has ever been seen in Stratford. Bӧrkur Jonsson has exploited the new RST to maximum effect. It is a verdant wonderland of theatrical possibilities and it is clear that the cast are loving every second of the many elements with which they have to interact. Emma Ryott’s eclectic and witty costumes add to the overall visual splendour of the production which is enhanced further by the sensitive lighting by Bjӧrn Helgason.
It is clear that the director, Gisli Ӧrn Gardarsson, has an incredible imagination and just the right sense of fun. There are so many delicate touches of humour throughout as well as the broader elements – it is pitched perfectly to appeal both to children and the adults in the audience. He has encouraged his talented cast to deliver performances that are warm, nuanced and engaging. It would be too easy to over-play some of the dialogue and to descend into a pantomimic style of acting but this has been completed avoided – to the credit of all involved.
One of the particular joys for me is the cultural references that are dotted throughout the production. The nods to Shakespeare are a constant pleasure – As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Dream and many more. Plug, the clarinet playing dog, reminds me of the orchestral characterisation of Peter and the Wolf – another elegant touch. Added into the mix are more anachronistic elements which work perfectly without disturbing the balance of the piece – not least the arrival of a knight who could well have stepped straight out of Monty Python sketch.
With such a strong ensemble cast, it almost feels wrong to name individuals for specific praise. Everyone really does play their roles to near perfection. Martin Hutson nearly steals the show with his charmingly malevolent Prince John but the spirited Marion of Iris Roberts and sinuous Robin of James McArdle rightly win the hearts of the audience.
Audiences for the rest of the run will hopefully be as entranced and delighted by this wonderful production as I have been. It has a deftness of touch and richness of tone to work for theatregoers of all ages and backgrounds.
Oh, and watch out – there is something lurking in the water…