Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest review – Wardrobe Ensemble stages a bow quivering delight
The festive production runs at the Bristol Old Vic
When Tom Morris took over at the Bristol Old Vic in the dark days of 2009, while the theatre was shut and threatened with closure, he mentions how it was the youngsters of the theatre, those in the young company that kept the flame alive, popping up all over the city to make work and keep the brand alive. Among that number were members of The Wardrobe Ensemble and whisper it, they may have just saved Christmas as well.
Robin Hood: Legend of The Forest is a rip-roarer of a show; gently subversive, cheeky, full of heart, Bryan Adams and all in all a bow quivering delight. It is also their best work since 1972: The Future of Sex and shows that this is a company now fully equipped to be commissioned for our biggest stages. Ten years after being formed in 'The Made In Bristol' scheme, it seems a fitting anniversary present to themselves to show they are ready for the next step.
Lonely schoolboy JJ, given a big-hearted turn by Dorian Simpson, is transported to Sherwood Forest by the magic of a book given to him in a library, to meet Robin (Kerry Lovell) and her band of merry friends. Robin is not the heroine of yore here but a down on her luck con-artist ready to barter her way out to the Costa del Sol. But with the dastardly Sherriff of Nottingham (James Newton) raising taxes for the poor and silencing anyone who dares stand up to him, it's time for her to refind her purpose. A quest to put the gang back together and then pull off a daring heist at Nottingham's birthday shindig is at the heart of the show that never slows down on its invention over its 150-minute run time.
It's no surprise that several of the members have been responsible for Bristol's best festive treat over the years, Wardrobe's own Christmas show, that splices together famous movie titles to make something unique. This is Robin Hood meets Oceans 11, with an iconic Mission Impossible moment to boot. It's a heist show that delights in seeing the band come back together to pull off one last job, making self-discoveries along the way. Anna Orton's set fluidly takes us from libraries to the forest to dungeons with a flourish or two along the way, atmospherically lit by Joshua Gatsby while Tom Crossley-Thorne's compositions are toe-tapping delights.
After a decade together, the ensemble now operates like a well-oiled machine. Lovell brings dash and brio to the iconic Robin, and Newton's Sherriff, prone to nightly affirmations, and with a glee for removing digits stands out as a dead-eyed psychopath who just wants everyone to celebrate his birthday. Jesse Meadows is a lush of a Tuck, and Katja Quist is a mixed martial artist Marian, but it's the ever-affable Tom England who threatens to run away with the production with his dance turn and a Tom Cruise iconic moment.
I think ultimately what impressed me most was how the company has produced something that feels quite traditional in plenty of respects but lands it right in 2021. Three cheers for a queer kiss being clapped to the rafters by the groups of schoolchildren and a piece ending with an NHS working Mum being called a hero by her child. And let's have one final cheer for a company that continue to dazzle with their vision and ambition.