ROBIN HOOD AND THE REVOLTING PEASANTS
Artrix, Bromsgrove, Sunday 13th January, 2019
For their winter tour this year, the inestimable Oddsocks bring this new take on the legendary figure who has for centuries stood for the downtrodden and against the abuses of power. As ever with this funniest of theatre companies, you can expect a lot of laughs, but there is something different about this offering. In terms of form, there is a departure from the familiar style right from the off. The introductions (a staple of Oddsocks’s shows, in which the actors adopt silly pseudonyms) is shared by all five, making for a more democratic presentation – there’s a clue there to how the content is going to play out. Also, the cast members share narrating duties; the shows are always team efforts but there is an emphasis this time around…
Writer-director Andy Barrow appears as the villainous, sneering Sheriff, bleeding the peasantry dry so he can build his castles and mansions and duck houses. Barrow is an old hand when it comes to dealing with the audience, doling out insults and putting down hecklers with good-natured wit. He also gets to indulge his rock-star aspirations with his solo. Not only can he somersault he can also belt out a good tune.
The satire is laid on with an industrial trowel as Barrow tackles issues and concerns that bedevil the country to this day. One of the Sheriff’s nefarious plans involves a rudimentary form of fracking beneath Sherwood Forest, with the outlaws doing their utmost to stop it – through asking politely and singing protest songs. Meanwhile, the peasants are being cleared out of town, their hovels levelled to make way for the gentrification of the area rather than building affordable housing for all…
It takes plucky Marion (a delightful Joanna Brown, new to the team) a crusader (not that sort) and pro-active member of the community to enlist the famous Robin to the cause. Robin and the outlaws have been victim of fake news reports and are vilified by the peasantry they are seeking to assist. Robin is played by Oddsocks veteran Dominic Gee-Burch as a funny, down-to-earth sort, most definitely not aristocratic. Gee-Burch is immediately likeable, and impresses with his vocal skills in a rousing rendition of You’re The Voice.
The talented Ben Locke makes a welcome return to the troupe appearing (among other roles) as Little John, who is something of an eco-warrior. Ellen Chivers, in her Oddsocks debut, brings a lot of humour to her characterisations, Patricia the peasant, Robin’s sister Scarlet, and a hapless Norman soldier. As ever, Andy Barrow has gathered an excellent ensemble, and he works them hard, but the show is almost stolen out from under them by the antics of Twitchy the squirrel.
Fight direction by Ian Stapleton adds slapstick violence to the fun. There is fisticuffs and swordplay with the women giving as good as the men. Costumes by Sigrid Mularczyk and Vanessa Anderson are marvellously medieval, while being functional to allow for quick changes and action sequences. As ever, the set is an intricate thing of flaps and moving parts, reminiscent of the company’s early years on a pageant wagon.
It’s enormous fun while being their most overtly political show to date. It’s great to see an original story incorporating what works best about the Oddsocks approach: silliness, physical comedy, puppetry, modern musical numbers, and audience participation. The action might be a little muddied at times but the message is perfectly clear. If there is one thing this country needs, it’s a prick to the social conscience. This show is a salutary (and hilarious) reminder of things that ought to be important to us all.