Tale tellers often tell tales. So is the theme of The Ballad of Robin Hood, a charming production from Tacit theatre group at the Southwark Theatre. The questions at play in the show are engrossing and engaging: what is the difference between fiction and lie? Why do we remember such a romanticised account of the outlaw Hood when there were a number of gruesome stories throughout history linked to him (one story, though not featured in the show, had Hood decapitate and disfigure the Guy of Gisborne)? Tacit shows how easy it is to deconstruct the Robin Hood narrative and strip it back to its origins – nothing more than an assortment of varying and, sometimes, contradictory tales.
This may sound heavy, but amongst all of this narrative deconstruction rests a fun and riproaring show packed with slapstick and satirical comedy. The set and lighting design from Giulia Carisi and Leo Steele is perfect on a cold winter night – audiences are transported to the glowing warmth of a Southwark tavern and can there forget their December woes and settle in to some good old swashbuckling adventure. Music from the cast, composed by director Annabelle Brown, is instrumental here – creating a tone and timbre ideal for a tavern setting, with some songs reminiscent of ‘The Cat and the Moon’ from The Lord of the Rings musical last decade. This was, of course, entirely to the show’s favour. Acting from all was a comedic farce that always found its mark – the future Sherriff of Nottingham’s delight and obsession with Norfolk was a particularly quirky line that went down very well.
What The Ballad of Robin Hood represents is a witty, punchy show with an important revisionist message at its centre. Everything about the show is modernised, and, in many ways, holds a very secular bent: friars and monks depicted as greedy, using the King’s divine appointment as a means of filling their own coffers. Satire runs rife through the production – administrative costs of charities and the misjudged and derogatory treatment of immigrants are noted at a number of intervals. These are weighty, pressing subjects, and to some extent are quite overbearing in a show already laden with a number of theoretical questions. If this discussion of immigration were to form the centre of the piece it would make for interesting (albeit incredibly different) theatre, yet by being relegated to offhand remarks, becomes slightly more awkward.
Such discussions aside, The Ballad of Robin Hood exists as a wonderful little show that asks a number of wonderful questions about one of Britain’s most famous (and most fictional) heroes. Hood’s egalitarian message has stood the test of time, but any real life circumstances surrounding Hood have been lost through time the centuries. All that remains is a fiction, and just because such fiction has been appropriated by a national culture does not make it any more than a tale. There is as much chance that Hood was an outlaw and a killer as he was a moral crusader campaigning for the poor. The show perhaps falls down in the final coda, restoring Hood to his swashbuckling self, saving the Maid Marion from certain death in a daring series of escapades that trumps the bigoted Sheriff. Yet, after all the lights have gone out and the tavern has been exited, the questions still remain – how far should we trust such stories, and how far have they been warped in the last 700 years?
|Creative TeamDirector and Composer
Annabelle BrownFight Director
Ronin TraynorSet Designer
Giulia CarisiBecky Evans
Producer and Lighting Designer
Tom Daplyn (also co-directs)