Tag Archives: Mike Ashcroft

Robin Hood

Robin Hood: The Legend. Re-Written


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

ROBIN HOOD: THE LEGEND. RE-WRITTEN at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


Robin Hood

“The performances are uniformly strong, joyful, silly and skilful”


Everyone has their own favourite image of Robin Hood, whether it be Kevin Costner, Jason Connery, Russell Crowe (really?); or the Disney rendition. Or a camp pantomime outlaw in green tights. Carl Grose has taken three of those archetypes and has them gate-crash his alternative – and quite eccentric – version of the legend. The device is an embodiment of the quirky humour that, unlike the sleight of hand archery skills on display, often misses its target.

Part of the problem is that nobody, including Grose, seems to know where the target is. You can’t see the wood for the trees in this overgrown Sherwood Forest where tangled brambles of offbeat ideas lie in wait like thorny catch weed. You don’t need to wade too far in to get lost. Or frustrated enough to want to turn back. Tax collectors in hi vis jackets delight at relieving commoners of their bow fingers. Fingers which, no less, end up in a casket the sheriff keeps hidden away, occasionally lifting the lid to allow the dismembered digits to prophesise to him in squeaky voices. We are in a pretty slaughterous world where scarlet blood puddles and muddles the greenery. Where fact, fiction, myth and legend collide at the whim of an insurgent history teacher on acid.

The opening moments are magical, the scene set by the Balladeer (Nandi Bhebhe; velvet voiced and spellbinding). The landscape is borrowed from Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ as the mystical atmosphere swiftly morphs into a kind of ‘state of the nation’ play. “Who owns England?”, the downtrodden ask. Sheriff Baldwyn (a commanding performance from Alex Mugnaioni) keeps the King in a permanent state of befuddlement by spiking his tea in order to have free reign to be as dastardly as can be. Paul Hunter’s portrayal of the king is a masterclass in comic buffoonery, while still conveying that this hapless monarch knows much more than he is letting on.

Chiara Stephenson’s split-level set crudely separates the two classes, but there is plenty of social mobility. Not least the sheriff’s grog-guzzling wife, Marian (Ellen Robertson – in fine, playful form). We are never quite sure of her motives, but her disdain of, and possibly guilt over, her privilege drives her to extremes of disguise, the likes of which would be far too big a spoiler to reveal here. An ensemble troupe of Merry Men (excuse the Olde Worlde gender reference) create the required mayhem to subvert the established order. Apparently, it all started with a plan to build a new road, putting much of the forest at risk. A rather throwaway shuffle onto the environmentalist bandwagon, but I guess Grose felt the need.

The performances are uniformly strong, joyful, silly and skilful. It must have been a task, but director Melly Still guides the company through the mayhem with a steady hand. For the most part. At interval, the lawns are littered with bemused expressions heading for solace at the bar. It is short lived. The second act gets jaw-droppingly bizarre as we become lost in a sea of abdications, beheadings and resurrections. In the spirit of true farce, some ends are tied up, but no matter how hard we try the disjointed fragments of this production never really meet in our minds. The theatrical trickery has to be admired (Ira Mandela Siobhan is compelling as the conjuring but doomed villain, Gisburne) but the overall journey is unnavigated. Lost in the forest, left to make it up as it goes along.

As the sun sets and a crescent moon hangs above Regent’s Park, we file out into the night wondering if what we have just seen really did come from the same writer who penned “Dead Dog in a Suitcase” and “The Grinning Man”. The tagline in the PR blurb pronounces “Think you know the story of Robin Hood? Think again!”. It promises revelation, but the question remains the same as we leave the theatre.


Reviewed on 23rd June 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Once On This Island | ★★★★ | May 2023
Legally Blonde | ★★★ | May 2022
Romeo and Juliet | ★★★½ | June 2021


Click here to read all our latest reviews


The Watsons


Menier Chocolate Factory

The Watsons

The Watsons

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 1st October 2019



“witty and intelligent in a way that both complements and complicates Austen”


Emma Woodhouse is one of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters – but what of Emma Watson? Austen abandoned her first Emma, heroine of the unfinished novel The Watsons, in 1805. Since then, several authors have sought to give Emma the ending she deserves.

Laura Wade is the latest writer to undertake the challenge, though she has the distinction of being a playwright rather than a novelist. Nor is she a relative of Austen’s, as many early contributors to The Watsons were. But, despite her apparent distance, Wade is more deeply involved than any of her predecessors.

Emma Watson (Grace Molony) was sent to live with her aunt as a child and now returns, aged nineteen, to the modest family estate. Sent straight into society, she soon has the attentions of three local men. But, just as she accepts a proposal from awkward aristocrat Lord Osborne (Joe Bannister), Laura (Louise Ford) bursts into the story to stop Emma making a terrible mistake. What follows is the story that Laura wants to tell, the story behind the telling of it, and the story of the characters that won’t let her have her way.

Even for those who aren’t Austen fans (me), The Watsons is a joy to watch. Wade’s script is witty and intelligent in a way that both complements and complicates Austen. She adds plenty of commentary, some of it topical, but much of it personal, about the struggle to write and the pressure of storytelling. In mixing her story with Austen’s, she manages to preserve what is special about the original work whilst amplifying it to new heights.

But what of the all-important end? Wade leaves us with just a taster of what is to come, but no more. Her strategy for finishing the story is as smart as the story itself, but does feel a tad rushed. There is not much insight given as to why Emma chooses to give Laura back control. I can only assume that she felt lost or afraid, but this is just speculation. A definite answer could really have cemented this, and given the audience a greater sense of Emma’s inner self.

One thing that cannot be faulted is the acting. There is not a single performance that does not hit its mark. Molony is a brilliant heroine, at once endearing and infuriating as she demands the right to tell her own story – at any cost. Louise Ford is so convincing a Laura that, for a second, you forget that there is another Laura, writing this Laura and everything else that’s going on. It is hard to choose the highlights of the remaining cast. Performances that immediately spring to mind are Jane Booker’s haughty Lady Osborne, Sally Bankes’ no nonsense Nanny, and Sophie Duval’s Mrs Robert – who, despite being ‘not in it very much’ makes her presence felt at all times. Credit must also be given to designer Ben Stones, whose blank page of a stage is the perfect space for Wade’s experimentation.

Despite initial reservations, this is one of the most enjoyable pieces of theatre I have seen in a while, full of energy and wit that even Austen herself would have found impressive. And I think I quite like Jane Austen now, which means that, not only has Laura Wade written an excellent play, she has done the impossible.



Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Manuel Harlan


The Watsons

Menier Chocolate Factory until 16th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | May 2019


Click here to see our most recent reviews