Guildford Shakespeare Company
Rack Close, Guildford
Who knew that Sherwood Forest was so close to Guildford, almost in the heart of the town, and that Robin Hood is alive and well and still fighting injustice and greed. In Racks Close, the old Chalk Quarry, GSC has created the well-known story in its usual innovative, enthusiastic and energetic style and has provided an exciting adventure for adults and children alike. The audience also get a little exercise, which is never a bad thing.
Beginning and ending with song, the first is in the picnic area where a guitar-playing Little John (James Sheldon) mixes with the throng chatting and cheekily asking for food and drink. His song is telling the tale of Robin Hood and the wicked sheriff of Nottingham, and it’s not long before the audience are joining in with ‘Hood’ or ‘wood’ and cheering and booing in turn.
The story begins with high drama as a prisoner, gagged and in chains, is dragged in and about to be executed. This is a very feisty Sally Cheng as Scarlet of Gamwell, who lets it be known in no uncertain terms that she is not happy. She appears later just as feisty and furious that no one will listen to her accusations about the Priory. Typical men—thinking a woman wouldn’t know anything.
There’s a lot of what we believe to be the original story here, but Ant Stones has adapted that and given a few twists, the main one being the Prioress being involved in child trafficking. (Scarlet knew what she was talking about). Sarah Gobran, who plays this role regally, elegantly and impressively, is also Much the Miller and the other side of the coin, a peasant mother who, while being evicted, has lost her children and, now living in the forest with the outlaws, is frantic to find them again. Gobran is equally adept at both roles with some quick changes of costume, attitude and accent.
We still have, of the original, Robin winning the silver arrow at the archery competition, the fight with Robin and Little John trying to knock each other into the water and a Friar Tuck (Robert Maskell) who insists his name is not Tuck but cannot at that moment remember what it is. He is given the ‘Sherwood Welcome’. If he tells the truth about what money he has, he will be fed and wined, if not… This is a good Friar, he gets the welcome, although we’re not too sure about him a little later.
Gavin Fowler plays Robin exactly as we would expect him to be, devil-may-dare, a bit cheeky and joking even in the face of adversity, and his Lady Marian is a very appealing Paula James, while Chris Porter as the Sheriff of Nottingham is very satisfyingly nasty.
As usual, this amazing company put their heart and soul into their performance and there’s a great deal of punching, kicking, sword fighting and swinging staves with some of the blows looking and sounding so realistic that they have the audience gasping in disbelief, and the venue is perfect. We are in the forest with the outlaws, out in the open for the archery competition, then back in the forest, where the show ends as it began, with a song and also a dance. Entertaining, exciting and a very enjoyable adventure.
Reviewer: Sheila Connor