“Fancy driving to Lancaster to see an outdoor performance in the park?” came the request from Northern Soul a couple of months ago. With a pinch of the Dunkirk spirit I said “yes”, well aware that my meteorological gamble might see my ten-year-old daughter and I getting a good drenching, while trying to view people in tights through impenetrable sheets of British summer rain. For once, the bet paid off and we were treated to a beautiful evening.
The Lancaster-based Dukes Theatre has been staging annual, outdoor productions in Williamson Park since 1987 and this is the second appearance of Robin Hood, which had a previous outing in 1993. Williamson Park is a beautiful setting and it houses what was once described as “the grandest monument in England”, the Ashton Memorial. You may never have heard of it, but if you’ve ever travelled on the M6 North, chances are you’ve seen it and wondered what it was. It’s that beautiful, domed building like a mini St Paul’s Cathedral that you see on the left as you drive past Lancaster.
Another interesting fact is that Williamson Park is close to what is considered to be the centroid point of the UK and Northern Ireland. This is the theoretical location at which you can balance the land mass on the tip of a pencil (see, reading Northern Soul reviews enriches your knowledge in so many ways!).
The play is enacted as a promenade piece with six scenes in five locations, each of them selected for atmosphere and as a brilliant aid to the dramatic narrative. The Dukes has gone for a modern twist on the classic story, while retaining fundamental elements. All the original characters are there, but are not necessarily of the same sex or personality. We’re presented with Robin Hood as a redemptive tale, with the poor, downtrodden people of the forest struggling to eke out their lives as thieves or peasants, while trying to seek fair play and justice from the sheriff and her minions.
The play is particularly good fun for younger people in the audience. From the start, members of the cast interact with the crowd, stealing their food and seeking their opinion in some of the arguments that occur. The cast are dressed in a funky, steam-punk combination of leather jackets and new-age traveller chic. The sheriff’s lackeys project their menace by travelling around on motorbikes in black uniforms and carrying truncheons.
The locations are used to great effect and bring the whole thing to life. One minute we’re deep in the woods at Little John’s smithy and the next we’re up at the Ashton Memorial which doubles as the sheriff’s castle. Our favourite scene was the fifth, as the light dwindled and we found ourselves in a dark part of the forest where we were subjected to lots of scary sound and light effects.
The stewarding of the audience is super-efficient and at all times we had a great view of the action. Three hours seemed daunting at the outset, but it flew by. Lots of the audience were far more prepared than us. With picnic hampers and foldaway chairs, some people looked like they were moving in for the week and were clearly veterans of the annual production. This all helped to bring a convivial quality to the event that we really enjoyed.
Off-beat productions like this are a great way to attract non-theatre goers. Lots of teenage lads were in evidence – a social group that sometimes view a trip to the theatre with abject terror.
Due to popular demand, the show has been extended for an extra week, which says it all, really. Round up a couple of kids, cross your fingers for the weather and go and see it. We definitely plan to do it all again next year.
Review by Charlie Bell
What: Robin Hood
Where: Williamson Park, Lancaster
When: until August 17, 2013
More info: www.dukes-lancaster.org/theatre/RobinHood