Sunday, 18 November 2018

REVIEW: Robin Hood at the Watermill in Newbury

The Watermill Theatre is one of my most favourite theatres and Christmas time one of my favourite times to be in a theatre seeing young children getting their first experience of a live show. In the past two seasons the Watermill has presented Rufus Norris's fairy tale adaption of Sleeping Beauty and a wonderful adaption of The Borrowers which have been perfectly pitched at the Christmas audiences. This year they have turned to poet and novelist Laura Dockrill for a modern version of the legend of Robin Hood, in what feels like her first stage play. She has taken the original well known outlaws and written them as modern day scouts falling out with a female punk Robin Hood in the traditional battle with a bizarre manic Sheriff of Nottingham. Sadly it does not work and the cast have to put a lot of effort to get anything out of the clunky script.

Leander Deena as the Sheriff reminded me of a cross between Timmy Mallet's outrageous overacting still seen in pantomime and Basil Fawlty's over the top reaction to everything. He gets most of the original songs including "I've also fancied myself", "Nice guy", "Be my wife" and "Double day" and pitches them all with the same wide eyed energy. Curiously the lyrics seem to recognise the flaws in the show as the cast sing of a "stupid and pointless song", "I don't like this song", "I thought jokes were meant to be funny" and that "we will all be half asleep by the time we finish"! The best song is a country and western song "Friends" sung by Marion and Robin backed by a washboard and guitars.

Robin Hood is played by Georgia Bruce and the outlaws sing of "our boss is a chick". The best scene comes in her battle with Friar Tuck, Jorell Coiffic-Kamall, with a break dancing competition which ends with her flossing! But it is a long way from the original story! When she approaches the castle to see her old school friend who she platted her hair with, she finds Marion hates her. Marion is played by Stephanie Hockley, dressed in a crochet dress and making knitted dolls for the children of Nottingham. 

Little John played by Daniel Copeland looks the part but has bizarre lines about "we are just baked beans" and "I would not put you on my Christmas list" and Ned Rudkins-Stow doubles as Will Scarlet and the musical director leading the actor musicians in the songs by Hugo White. However the lasting memory of the music will be the return of the Kazoos which are overused in the show but bring back memories of our own childhood. 

The Watermill usually surprises the audience with its settings in the intimate
space but this simple setting of bare tree trunks with glitter to suggest the woods of Nottingham is also far short of their recent successes like Jerusalem by the same designer, Frankie Bradshaw.

This is positioned as a Christmas show but it's target seems to be firmly primary school children and the young children in the matinee seemed to listen along attentively but unlike pantomime where the comedy works for all age groups, the humour here misfires with the adults in the audience. Fortunately many of the upcoming 50 plus performances are for schools and I hope they will enjoy the madcap modern retelling of this familiar story.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★

Seat: Stalls row E | Price of ticket: £23
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