Written by Richard Hurford, music and lyrics by Rob Castell, and directed by Suzanne McLean, Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny performed at the Theatre Peckham.
This musical was certainly spectacular. The use of fairy lights along the backdrop and trees was an effective and charming decision. However, these would have been better on a standard setting rather than on a constant fade, as this left performers in darkness regularly, and to use them as the fire was too slight and unneeded; the pulsating orange lighting (designed by Jack Wills) managed to capture fire perfectly. Similarly, a spotlight was needed for when Oliver Thomas (performing here as one of six Merry Men but also playing the Tax Collector) starts to sing. The visual of scintillating fairy lights was rather ruined by a wash on this top rostrum back stage.
The snake was beautifully crafted and mesmerising, though I would rethink the way in which it appears initially. Even a simple blackout for it to appear from the dark, Centerstage, would have been more enticing. The set itself, though stationary, was facilitative and well made (designer: Lily Faith Knight). However, I must admit, I was rather aggravated by the Oak King (voiced by Jo Servi). Not only should his animator have been on stage before the show began to make his appearance more magical and unforeseen, his mouth was not moved in time with the speech, and the same can be said for the snake.
Acting style was perhaps a little wooden in places, but overall, most performers had high energy. Where melodramatic, performers usually brought apt comedy to the script. I would like to bring attention to Friar Tuck’s (Geoff Aymer) characterisation, however, which was very humorous, if stereotypical, yet the accent change was too dramatic. Suddenly, after speaking in a rather neutral English accent, he began to speak with an accent teetering between African and Jamaican.
Vocals were a little shy from perfect from time to time, but the overall ensemble of performers were good. Ayanna Christie-Brown (playing Maid Marian), however, most definitely stood out as a singer of talent with a mellifluous and soulful voice.
I did have a slight problem with the choreography (by Tamara McKoy-Patterson) in places, in terms of synchronicity and repetition of movements. Despite this, the young dancers, specifically during Christie-Brown's solo, were delightful to watch — and appropriately dressed, which I shall detail later. However, stage fighting sequences (directed by Jonathan Holby) were rather disastrous and should have been cut completely.
Unfortunately, costume was rather shambolic. Whilst some costumes followed a forest-like pallet of greens, burgundies and browns, blue denim jackets and even a rainbow tie-dye jumper made their way into the mix. This was very peculiar.
There was also a layer of ‘hood’ culture attempting to pierce through — such is inferable by the publicity, the tracksuits and the rapping sequences, etc. Yet, other than these rather minor features, along with the fact that it is entitled Robin Hood, there was not much else going for this subtext; it was only mildly detectable.
In fact, I believe this musical suffered quite strongly with themes of identity. There was a slightly odd ‘feminist’ narrative coming from Maid Marian who stated that she did not need to be a man to succeed in her mission and that she was a powerful, independent woman who could do it all herself…and then she dressed up as a man and, after revealing her womanliness, waited for Robin Hood (Malachi Green) to come to rescue her. But then she did guide his sword to stab the snake…? It was all very skewed, but I do believe this was verging more towards a tale of Maid Marian than Robin Hood! Then, there was the song sung by Friar Tuck who detailed all the qualities of ‘being a man’. Whilst this could — though very ambiguously — be interpreted as a dig at the stereotypes of 'manhood’, this is not what it seemed and would nevertheless not be so intelligible for the mind of a child.
Similarly, I was quite disconcerted by the amount of sexual innuendos towards Friar Tuck by Little John (TerriAnn Oudjar). Perhaps one or two would have sufficed, but these became synonymous with Little John’s character, becoming rather extreme in Oudjar’s glaring at Aymer's genitals during a ‘Tiny Des’ joke. If needed to be kept, for some unbeknownst reason, a simple glance to Aymer's face and a shy look away on his behalf would have sufficed. In a musical for and formed of children, I felt this rather distasteful. Similarly, I felt that it was rather extreme to have the Tax Collector's throat slit. This need not have been done on stage – or visibly in the wings, as it happens. Imagination is sometimes a much more powerful device…
Finally, the writing. I feel that this was a modern, comical and lively interpretation of a classic tale, yet I am not sure whether staging sociopolitical ideologies and narratives had its place in a musical of this calibre and for its target audience type. This performance relies too heavily on stereotypes for comedy, most of which were not received too emphatically by other spectators on the night I watched the performance, either. The second half, though quite entertaining, I felt to be rather redundant, and this is an opinion I know to have been shared by other audience members who noted, “It could have ended sooner."
As a final and brief note, I do believe it would have been worthwhile to have the children play larger roles in this production, an issue not dissimilar to many other children's theatre companies. As it stood, it seemed rather odd to focalise on adult performers with children scattered in the back, some having chances to stand out, others not.