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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


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The Ballad of Maria Marten

The Ballad of Maria Marten


Wilton’s Music Hall

The Ballad of Maria Marten

The Ballad of Maria Marten

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 15th February 2022



An undoubtedly compelling and timely story, told with a fine balance of edge and heartiness


“It’s been a year since I died and still nobody’s found me.”

There’s a reason murders are generally told from the perspective of the murderer, obviously because the victim isn’t there to tell it. So Beth Flintoff’s The Ballad of Maria Marten is necessarily told from the grave. Based on a true story, Maria Marten herself guides us through the loves, heartbreaks and societal failings that led to her violent death.

I’m embarrassed to say I had never heard of Maria Marten, or the Red Barn murder as it’s otherwise known. Particularly so as that’s where my partner is from, and apparently that’s what the tiny village of Polstead is largely known for. That and cherries.

In fact, it’s been a popular story since the days of the trial in 1827, with songs written about it- one by Tom Waits- and multiple TV, film and radio adaptations. But under Hal Chambers’ direction, this production has taken a lot of risks in order to contemporise, the first and most overt being there are no men in the cast. Not only that, whilst Maria’s former lovers are played as bit-parts by the all-female cast, William Corder doesn’t even get a look-in, remaining an off-stage character throughout. This is especially interesting because, as with most tales of murder, adaptations and retellings have been largely focused on him over her.

Accents are all over the shop which does get to be quite distracting- there’s a little west country, a little generic northern, some south London, even a bit of Irish, often combined in a single sentence. But the performances themselves are generally strong. The cast at their most powerful as a chorus: As the title suggests, the story is punctuated with ballads, sung in tight six-part harmonies. These are some of the tenderest and most affecting moments, giving the sense that whilst women like Maria have been largely lost to history, there is in their place a kind of communal voice of mourning. This is amplified by synchronised intakes of breath that feel as though Maria’s plight belongs to a multitude.

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about adults playing children, and there’s a lot of it going round at the moment- The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre comes to mind, with a twelve-year old being played by a twenty-something. I do see the necessity in this case: they’re children for very little of the story, so it’d be a waste to double the cast. Regardless, it’s near impossible to do well and feels a bit embarrassing.

Verity Quinn’s costumes and set are kept fairly traditional: a dilapidated barn wall looms over the stage throughout and the cast all sport bonnets and aprons. The story’s contemporary slant generally sits comfortably against this conventional backdrop, but there is some anachronism that doesn’t feel quite right. One of the characters, for example, is an empowered woman who loves sex and whose children each have a different father. I understand the impetus to modernise in this way, but it feels particularly bizarre given that Maria suffers the harsh judgement of the village for having children out of wedlock herself.

The ending too feels uncomfortably positive, where a more truthfully bleak conclusion would have better served the point of the story. That being said, it’s hard to keep an audience hooked when they know from the get who was murdered and, half-way through by whom, which this production does. An undoubtedly compelling and timely story, told with a fine balance of edge and heartiness.



Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Mike Kwasniak


The Ballad of Maria Marten

Wilton’s Music Hall until 19th February then UK Tour continues. See www.mariamarten.com for details


Recently reviewed at this venue:
Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Child in the Snow | ★★★ | December 2021


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