ComedyFamilyNorth East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny – Theatre Royal, York

Writer: Richard Hurford

Music/Lyrics: Rob Castell

Directors: Suzann McLean, Damian Cruden

Designer: Jane Linz Roberts

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny takes its time deciding whether it wants to be a humorously feminist take on the Robin Hood story (with a message among the songs and the daft gags) or simply a summer pantomime. After a first half that lacks the sharpness and momentum one would hope for, the second half commits to panto – at least to begin with – to good effect.

Richard Hurford’s script focuses on Maid Marian rather than Robin Hood. She is the sort of guardian of a village of folk starving under the Sheriff of Nottingham’s repressive regime – her father has gone to the Crusades, leaving her and Friar Tuck to look after the villagers. Meanwhile, the Sheriff wants her to marry his idiot nephew, Guy of Gisbourne, so he can obtain her father’s lands.

Eventually, Robin makes an appearance 40 minutes in, disguised as a large bush – don’t ask! He proves to be positively wimpish and Marian, who has been seeking his assistance disguised as a male (in scarlet tunic – calls herself Will, you might guess), proves much the manliest of his tatterdemalion gang. The centerpiece of the play is the famous archery contest at Nottingham Castle, after which, of course, Robin and Marian break the power of the Sheriff, though not without an unexpected foray into Old Magic with Wyrmwood the dragon.

There are likable performances all down the line, but Suzann McLean and Damian Cruden’s production sometimes needs more edge, both in the adult performances and in the direction of the talented children’s ensemble. Siobhan Athwal, however, is excellent, a feisty Maid Marian mixing boldness and charm effectively and doing the Principal Boy bit perfectly. Neil Reynolds is very pleasant as Robin Hood, but makes a comparatively modest impact, partly because of the way the story is skewed.

Trevor A. Toussaint is a suitably large and benignly avuncular Friar Tuck, but Little John really is little – and female, with a false beard, in the energetically eccentric form of Joanna Holden. John Elkington’s suavely villainous Sheriff is urbane evil personified and really hits his pantomimic stride after the interval, with Ed Thorpe (also the Musical Director) proving a highly entertaining sidekick, a well-intentioned dolt of a Guy of Gisbourne done up like a leprechaun.

Puppets and masks, ingeniously designed by Anna Kesteven and ably manipulated by the youthful ensemble, represent the villagers and Jane Linz Roberts’ designs are colourful and flexible. Rob Castell’s songs, largely rap-based, are effective, if not generally memorable, though Marion and Robin’s Brothers in Arms is an appealing song well performed by Athwal and Reynolds.

Runs until 2 September 2017 | Image: Anthony Robling

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