Williamson Park, Lancaster
“What’s going on?” inquired one young theatregoer, not long into this production.
The easy parental answer would be that the city’s Dukes Theatre is again staging outdoor summer performances, after a year off to catch its financial breath.
The bigger question would be why deconstruct the perfectly-serviceable legend of Robin Hood, then put it all back together with lumps of George Orwell and even Shakespeare sticking out? Which was probably what the youngster—brought up on the rapidly-changing demands of the National Curriculum—had in mind.
There might be a case for turning Sherwood Forest’s finest into a hero who mirrors our own age of uneven wealth distribution, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Instead writer Kevin Dyer puts him at the centre of a dystopian future where the Sheriff of Nottingham’s evil sidekick rides a motorbike and his henchmen enforce draconian New England laws.
A public address system barks out orders, Big Brother-style, which seem particularly out of place in such a sylvan setting as Williamson Park on a glorious summer’s evening.
Robin (Noel White) is some kind of mercenary, who recruits a motley collection of forest-dwelling eco-warriors to the cause of righteousness, and as to what happens after that—then your guess is as good as mine.
A cast of seven, kitted out from the dressing-up box marked Post Punk, give it all the performance it deserves, using six locations around the park.
Indeed there’s often more drama marshalling the audience into position at each scene.
Meanwhile, back at the plot, there’s too much emphasis—or is it over-reliance—on audience involvement. If pantomime was intended, and there are plenty of crowd-pleasing local references, then it comes without the laughs. Stealing one of Eric Morecambe’s best jokes doesn’t count...
A little late in the evening, in the park’s terrific quarry amphitheatre, Sue McCormick, as Tucky, tries her best with some humour but even here it’s mixed in with some supernatural mumbo-jumbo and an attempt to be scary for scary’s sake.
Likewise Lauren Silver, as a Scouse Scarlet, does what she can to lead the play’s incidental music.
With its 25-year tradition of plays in the park, The Dukes’ expertise has always been in simple storytelling, accessible at all ages. It has given audiences memories that are seared on the mind, rather than burnt on their smartphones and tablets—a thankless new task for the production’s stewards to police.
The huge public appetite for these performances is evident in the week’s extension to the run, but this Robin Hood risks alienating them, and only demonstrates the difference between playing around in the park, and staging a play in the park.
Reviewer: David Upton