The Ballad of Robin Hood
Words by Greg Freeman, music by Annabelle Brown
Southwark Playhouse (The Large)
As with its earlier rollicking representation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Tacit Theatre sets its new production in the Tabard Inn (which stood up the road in the Borough). The Large space at Southwark is given a surrounding upper level to suggest a medieval inn yard and Rosalind Blessed is there as Rosie Bailey, welcoming guests as Mine Hostess of the tavern.
This isn’t as bawdy and brash as the Chaucer but it is still full of vigour and lively invention.
What, you may ask, is Robin Hood doing in Southwark? Surely he should be up north in Sherwood Forest or Nottingham, where he lives in the depths of the green wood? Indeed, that is where most of his merry men still are, but he’s got urgent business in London: Maid Marion is in the Tower and it is his fault that she is imprisoned there. He has a scheme, he admits “riddled with risk,” for he and Will Scarlet to free her.
That is the main strand of the story but this isn’t just one Ballad of Robin Hood: Tacit sets about telling us several (drawn from a Victorian collection that includes over forty) and they don’t all show Robin in a good light, though he still stays our hero.
Tavern regulars Jeffrey (Joe Mellinger) and Dave (Oliver Ashworth) and Ellen Chivers’s minstrel Kate are there to provide most of the music. Though their mandolin, accordion and violin are anachronistic, it is composed with a medieval lilt by director Annabelle Brown. Things get going with them dancing some dizzy-making kickshaws.
When Robin turns up, he is already the prisoner of a sheriff who tries to get Jeffrey and Dave to fetch soldiers but they prevaricate and start stories exploring his reputation, including an encounter with two terrified Churchmen.
Robin is an outlaw but, as Rosie Bailey reminds us, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad man (though some are). It just means he is outside the law and not given its protection. However, he says being thought violent can be an asset. He doesn’t have to do any robbing; people are so frightened they just throw money at him.
Owen Findlay is a swashbuckling Hood with enough charisma to make you overlook the way he has let down Dora Rubenstein’s weapon-trained Maid Marion and Tom Daplyn is just priggish enough as the Sheriff to ensure we are on Hood’s side. They are at the nub of the story but this is an ensemble show with all the company working closely together.
Greg Freeman’s script slips in a few present-day parallels: for instance foreigners in London (even Jeffrey is an outsider from Essex) and those who dispense charity holding back a bit for themselves. But this Ballad doesn’t set out to be satirical; it is a tongue-in-cheek look at a legend that sets out to be fun.
It succeeds, and keeps the fun going until Marion and Robin go back bickering to the green wood and the King punishes the incompetent Sheriff by sending him off into the sticks to be Sheriff of Nottingham.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton