REVIEW: Robin Hood – Chesil Theatre

19
July
2016

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REVIEW: Robin Hood – Chesil Theatre outdoors at Wolvesey Palace, Winchester – July 2016

Winchester Today’s David Cradduck travels to Wolvesey Palace to see Men in Tights (and some women too!)

Whether Chesil’s theatrical capers in the Bishop’s Garden, Winchester this week were intended to take the form of panto is unsure but it certainly included all the ingredients for one; it was a riot from start to finish and the audience started booing and hissing the villains and cheering the heroes and heroines from the start. There was even a shout or two of “she’s behind you!” when it looked like our band of merry men (and women) were in trouble.

On a slightly humid and overcast evening (apart from the tech rehearsal the run was rain-free, thankfully), some 250 people of very differing ages unrolled their blankets, popped their corks, poured cream on strawberries and munched their way through lavish picnics before settling down to an evening of what can fittingly be described as fun, fun, fun.

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This is the second outing for Chesil to the magnificent gardens at Wolvesey Palace in the heart of college/cathedral land in Winchester, the first being The Three Musketeers two years ago. Inspired by the success of that first alfresco adventure this Winchester-based theatre group, renowned for a variety of shows in their 12th century converted church, returned, this time bringing their own script to the party.

Chesil member Jonathan Edgington has over 20 playwriting credits to his name (many performed by and at Chesil), and wrote this stage adaptation of Robin Hood to ‘combine the traditional elements of the legends with some brand new material’. This he succeeded in doing with aplomb, introducing some new characters, twists on old ones (did you know that Robin of Loxley had a reputation for being a wimpish poet?) and a very 21st century style of language. No smut, no oo-er missus innuendo (well not too much) and only one trouser-dropping incident – but then the dastardly Sherriff of Nottingham deserved to lose his, frankly.

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An impressive cast played the 30 plus characters dead straight, making it so much more enjoyable. The temptation to ham it up must have been hard to resist but resist it they did, allowing the very funny script to do its work. The principals were well cast and predictably excellent – Alec Walters (does that man never age?) in the title role, his real-life wife Eleanor Marsden as the beautiful yet feisty Lady Marion and, of course, the top villain of the piece, The Sherriff of Nottingham, played rather convincingly with the correct level of pure evil and some pithy one-liners, by Peter Andrews.

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There was a wonderful supporting cast, some appearing throughout like Kevin Denson as Little John, Charlie Seligman as Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Allan-a-Dale (Jom Glaister) and others with wonderful cameos-plus like Graham Cranmer as The Wizard of Warwick with an eye for a pot of gold and a pretty face and Joanna Russell as the young version of Ursula, transformed from an old hag to a glamorous, scheming seductress out to get Robin Hood’s heart in more ways than one.

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Some well-choreographed sword and other fights, arranged by David Baldwin, provided the necessary swash-buckling element and some rather effective trick effects with bows and arrows, all in sight of a very intimately arranged audience, gave the remaining supporting cast the chance to shine too. There really wasn’t a weak link and providing you didn’t take the whole too seriously the story seemed to fit with all the pre-conceived ideas of what we imagine Robin Hood, folk hero, got up to in 12th century Sherwood Forest. Scenes were staged in the main raised area with a castle turret behind for various entrances by the evil Sherriff (whose first name was George, we hear?) and to provide a suitable venue for Robin to very nearly lengthen his neck in the hangman’s noose.

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Special mention must be made of the three old hags Glenda, Medea and Ursula who made many a splendid interlude between scenes as the scheming witches. They, armed with the usual disgusting potion of bat’s wings and various other revolting ingredients plus the obligatory cauldron, connived to transform themselves into the young, scheming beautiful girls they once were but call on the Wizard of Warwick’s help for the missing vital ingredient, Dragon’s Heart. Heather Bradford, Sarah Andrews and Ros Liddiard made a formidable trio whose costumes and colourful wigs added a touch of colourful evil and mirth to the traditional greens/browns of the outlaws/villagers and predominantly black of the Sherriff’s men, one of whom had the lovely line “Not arf” to repeat incessantly and get a laugh every time.

Director Martin Humphrey was pleased with the result as he joined the audience in the interval and said “the main point of this show was to have a lot of fun and I really feel we have achieved that and more. This evening’s audience are buzzing and obviously having a great time”. He’s right, we were!

A relatively straightforward but effective lighting plot helped the second half turn into a splendid mix of greens yellows and as daylight faded so the effect of outdoor productions wove its magic. An eclectic mix of modern and medieval incidental music helped with the multiple scene changes which were, for the most part, reasonably slick and quick – essential to keep the pace – and the enthusiasm that cast and crew had for the the show permeated in no small way into the audience and had us all participating with gusto.

A great night out, but with only two performances to go as I write this, it is highly likely that you will have to wait for another two years to see Chesil back in this setting for more fun and summer frolics.