Robin Hood has been an enduring figure for centuries; through ballads, poems, stories and more recently, a raft of films and television series. From Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner, from Mel Brooks’ shtick in Men in Tights to the dour treatment by Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe who managed to make one of the most famous outlaws in history grim and dull. He is nothing less than fascinating and perhaps the ultimate anti-authoritarian symbol.
But who really was Robin Hood and what was the actual reason he stole from the rich to give to the poor? Thankfully, Ridley and Russell aren’t involved in this very amusing, Rashomon-style exploration of the myth, the legend… and the man who made Lincoln green a fashion sensation.
The ‘trial’ is presided over by King Richard (Mike Casas) newly returned from The Crusades. The ‘stout and lusty’ Robin Hood (Michael Davies) stoutly and lustily recounts his exploits from the time the King left for the Holy Lands and includes all the well-known moments as Prince John (Scott McArdle) runs amok, the Merry Men are assembled in Sherwood Forest, the rich are relieved of their wealth, and Maid Marian (Harriet Fettis) becomes the object of Robin’s, um, stoutliness and lustiliness-ness. Yes, this play surely must hold the record for the use of the words ‘stout’ and ‘lusty’ and variations thereof!
In this version, Robin paints himself as the just yeoman who defies the tyrannical John and his henchmen led by The Sheriff of Nottingham (Tom Dimmick). Robin is ultimately responsible for freeing the King from his captors, raising the King's ransom by infiltrating Nottingham and winning an archery contest... and, of course, winning something far more precious - Maid Marian herself.
Marian isn’t quite on board with all these details. In her version of the famous tale, it’s Robin’s infatuation with her beauty that drives him to acts designed to impress the fair maiden and ultimately win her hand. A lovelorn Robin mopes around Sherwood Forest until inspiration arrives in the form of the, not so much merry men, but Marian’s hand maidens in disguise. The whole redistribution of wealth thing was simply a ploy you see… in the name of love. Cue Bryan Adams lyrics.
Not so fast!
As the King himself notes, The Sheriff of Nottingham hasn’t come off too well in the previous versions. He sets the record straight in the final telling of the story. When the King sets off for Jerusalem, Prince John is left in charge and immediately raises taxes and prohibits the killing of the King’s Deer (Claire Tebbutt). According to The Sheriff, Robin is a simpleton who shoots the deer (to the lawman’s howls of anguish) and becomes an unwitting part of a ploy to nobly free the King. Such an environmentally conscious and loyal man this Sheriff is!
Ultimately the King addresses the audience and the true version is decided by their applause. At today’s matinee it seems the last few centuries of storytellers owe The Sheriff of Nottingham a huge apology, Robin Hood you dumb schmuck.
It’s all great fun with women disguised as men; Robin at one stage hilariously disguised as a woman called, well, Robin; kung fu fighting nuns; lustily fought battles with bamboo sticks; plenty of wordplay and puns; modern day musical cues and attitude and, generally, crazy antics all round.
Michael Davies is excellent as Robin playing three very distinct roles – the hero, the lovelorn sap, and the simpleton. He is a real crowd pleaser and received enthusiastic applause at closing bows for his engaging portrayal. Scott McArdle gives a wonderfully scenery chewing performance as the over-the-top Prince John while Harriet Fettis is a delightfully commanding and feisty object of desire not only for Robin but also Guy of Gisbourne (Hock Edwards who gives a funny, gangster style flourish to the rival suitor). Tom Dimmick quietly excels as The Sheriff and his Pacino-style-Godfather Part 3 howl of anguish over the deer’s death was a highlight. The supporting cast all give amusing performances with all kinds of inspired against-type casting such as Shannon Rogers as Friar Tuck and Chelsea Kunkler as, yes, ‘Willa’ Scarlet. Tebbutt’s deer was funny in each strand even though her demise is assured every time and Phillip Hutton has his moments as the Herald and human archery target.
Director Rachel Doulton and her crew have put together a fun show with colourful costuming and energetic staging with simple use of backdrops and lighting to create the world of Sherwood Forest and Nottingham. It is funny throughout and the conceit of having three separate points of view adds freshness to the well-known story.
It was great to see such a good crowd at the Saturday matinee with many children in attendance. There was a lovely moment after the show when an excited young boy rushed up to Scott McArdle who was still in his Prince John costume. That the boy’s sister scooted straight past Scott to greet Harriet Fettis in her stylish gown was even more delightful!
Written by Will Averill, Directed by Rachel Doulton and starring Michael Davies, Harriet Fettis, Mike Casas, Tom Dimmick, Scott McArdle, Hock Edwards, Jack Connolly, Kyle Blair, Ryan Partridge, Tym Sanders, Launcelot Ronzan, Chelsea Kunkler, Tarryn McGrath, Tijana Simich, Shannen Precious, Phillip Hutton, Claire Tebbutt, Jess Serio, Meagan Dux, Bob Morshidi, Shannon Rogers, Jenia Gladziejewski & Karen Hansord, there is only one more show left at Murdoch University’s Nexus Theatre, Sunday 20 July at 1pm.