You know when you feel confident about something? When you know something for sure? Well, just as I know that having a bath whilst heating my teeny house for an hour will cost roughly as much as a second-hand Fiat Punto; I knew I was going to love this show from the moment I watched it’s trailer on the Derby Theatre website.
It felt good. And judging by the reaction from the audience tonight, everyone involved in Deborah McAndrew’s brand-new BSL adaptation of this classic story should be feeling pretty good too.
To be honest, the trailer doesn’t even begin to express the talent and joy this production has to offer: we are watching a brand-new story told to us through innovative communication. Sarah Brigham’s spirited, and collaborative production showcases the superb multi-talented deaf and hearing cast in an unmistakeable way. I urge you to treat your bum to a seat and see for yourself. Here’s the crack…
We’re back in Sherwood in the 14th Century where the Sheriff (Adam Basset) has issues. His rich mates are still being targeted by Robin Hood (Craig Painting) and Robin’s faithful crew are giving everything they take to the pesky poor. The Sheriff’s trying to arrange some live entertainment to celebrate his castle’s brand-new west wing and he’s thinking 14th century chart topper Alana Dale (Joanna Simkins) plus the execution of our hero should do the trick. His right-hand man, Guy of Gisbourne (Dominic Rye) has his sights set on the Sherriff’s niece, Maid Marian (Mia Ward). And (pun very much intended) there’s this prophecy going around that suggests a mighty oak tree is the root of his problems.
What’s so special and refreshing about this show are the various ways challenges are embraced; the story is so thoughtfully translated by the fabulous set design (Emily Bestow) combined with creative captions and AV (Barret Hodgson) incorporates the text so imaginatively that at no point in the action is the pace or humour compromised.
Costume design (Tim Heywood), Movement Director (Jon Beney) and Fight Director (Ian Stapleton) create a comedic but authentic tone, and I especially appreciate the phenomenal musical performances by various cast members and composer, Ivan Stott.
Utilising the superb BSL expertise of the cast and BSL consultants (Deepa Shastri and Donna Mullings), the power and effectiveness of this collaboration is measured in every performance and method of interaction. The actors are fine-tuned, weaving their way through the storyline with passion and pride, switching from actor to musician in a heartbeat. The end result is totally infectious and completely respected.
Adam Basset’s Sherriff of Nottingham is terrific: a petulant hybrid man-child, prone to the odd meltdown if things don’t go his way. It’s his loyal, anxious servant, Roger the Reeve (Becky Barry), who cops the most of his outbursts.
A special mention to the captivating Becky Barry here. Evidently Barry is a gifted performer and qualified BSL/ English interpreter. She, like many of the cast, is responsible for interpreting many sections of dialogue. My favourite moments are when she embodies the Sherriff as she translates his power-mad, paranoid antics – her tone of voice and disposition emulate him perfectly.
Craig Painting’s depiction of Robin Hood is full of heart and soul, and John-Holt Roberts’ Adam Aquarius (the Sherriff’s trusted physician/ general medicine man) is hilarious due to his precise comic timing and worth a watch alone to see what he can do with a leek! The adorable, noble and cheeky, Much is playfully portrayed by a crowd-stealing Phillipa Russell.
There’s certainly a social comment here – particularly the relentless pressure upon the poorest in our communities. Watching Robin Hood and Co’s unyielding fight to stand up for those who need it remind me of the various charities we rely on today. I wonder who Robin would target nowadays though? I presume today that someone’s flush if they have a bottle of wine and some asparagus in their trolley.
I look around the audience at the end of the show and see for myself the fruits of the theatrical hard labour; loud applause, jazz hands waving eagerly, whole-heartedly. All in solidarity this reviewer and this audience are enjoying every bit of it together. It’s a great feeling.
Robin Hood and The Major Oak runs until Sat 8 April, with performances over the Easter period. Take your family, take your friends, but most importantly, take yourself.