Review: Robin Hood

The Dukes, Lancaster, until 31 December 

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The Dukes theatre has established its own festive tradition of putting on a lively and innovative original adaptation of a family favourite story each Christmas.

This year it presents Robin Hood with a modern northern twist. Marian is the most successful sheep farmer in Bowland’s forest, but while King Richard is away, the Sheriff of Nottingham ventures to Lancaster with plans to seize the forest and build a gated community – all for himself. He plots to capture the Pendle Witches and exploit their sorcery to enchant Marian, forcing her hand in marriage. But the Sheriff has greatly underestimated the power and strength of Marian and her fearsome flock of fluffy sheep.

The annual Christmas show is evidently and deservedly growing in popularity as this year it’s moved from the round to the venue’s larger-capacity Rake stage and added an extra week’s worth of shows. On the second Friday of its run however (2 December), there were plenty of available seats in the theatre and there was something lost of the festive community feel that comes with sitting in the round. The traditional layout of the stage did allow for some extra innovation in props, however. Maid Marian’s towering tree house home stood proudly in the centre of the set and the Giant Man Eating Shrimp of Morecambe Bay – essentially a giant sheet, cleverly manipulated by strings – was able to make a dramatic appearance.

The cast of five worked tirelessly as they transitioned between several roles each. Helen Longworth, a regular at the Dukes’ annual show, played one of Robin’s Merry Men, Ellen-A-Dale, as well as a sheep, a prison guard, the mayor, a police officer, a witch and quite probably others. Each character was brought to life with creative costuming by Irene Jade and the young audience seemed thrilled to watch the familiar actors cropping up in their various guises.

The set and costuming had a cosy, earthy feel, in keeping with an over-arching environmental message about land destruction – perhaps the greatest concern for this generation of children – as well as Robin Hood’s main political theme of economic equality, which seems particularly pertinent this Christmas.

Jacob Butler’s Robin rounded out his band of Merry Men with Amy Drake playing Tuck, two young children from the audience crowned (with green felt caps) as Little Joan and Will Scarlett, and the rest of the audience, who were enlisted to the crew to sing and cheer, bringing a touch of panto-like interactivity to proceedings.

The show never veered into tired tropes, however, and there’s not a dame in sight. For one, Maid Marian (played by Althea Burey) is less fair dame than fierce heroine. The Sheriff (Lucas Cheong Smith) brought the most panto to the stage as the dastardly villain – his posh southern accent adding regional politics to the show’s subtle socialism. As he gyrated through his Elvis-inspired number about greed, the Sheriff was easy to hate. The song is a real ear worm too, so the disdain lingers longer than you might want it to if you’re trying to get into the festive spirit.

Overall though, the musical numbers, composed by Ziad Jabero and choreographed by Zak Phillips-Yeats, as well as a brilliant script adapted by Andrew Pollard, and direction from Kirstie Davis, exemplify why the Dukes’ Christmas shows are a cut above many. This is top quality theatre for families, with real heart and soul, delivered in a down to earth way.

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