British Summertime rears its contrary head once again, and London’s open spaces are tentatively starting to stage open-air theatre in all its glory, including beautiful settings, low flying planes and hayfever-afflicted audience members. The London Wetland Centre is making its first foray into outside dramatics with Robin Hood, a family-friendly tale of derring-do that sets out to recreate Sherwood with the rambling paths of the Wetland Centre.
This tale of Robin Hood is assembled from parts of his various legends, and as such may miss some of the more familiar plots out. But the basic structure is still well-known, and with solid performances from Robin (Zanni), Marion (Huebner) and Little John (Unsworth) you’re definitely going to be familiar with the characters, and enjoy following them around the grassland rebelling against authority.
The audience is led around the action by a jittery villager (Alessandro Predari). But this responsibility is shared with the director in full modern-day dress, occasionally commenting on where the action is taking us. The production needs to commit to modern ushers or friendly villagers, as having both is incredibly jarring.
This is part of a larger problem this production has with balancing artistic intent, tone and length. Far too much dialogue is given to developing the villagers’ relationships and stories, when they – individually – have little dramatic consequence in the story. They have three consecutive confrontations with Guy of Gisbourne (Teale), when one strong stand-off would have kept the pacing snappier. We already know he’s a baddie, he’s dressed in black and is locked in a permanent sneer. Teale gloriously hams it up a little too much, but an off-tone threat of sexual violence again warps the mood of this nostalgic legend that makes the show feel unsure of its identity.
It’s a bit panto, but without the lightness of tone and sense of fun. The merry men are mildly amused at best, dealing with fairly serious dialogue rather than the quick wit their name implies. The set piece fight scenes are meticulously planned and gingerly executed, Littlejohn (Unsworth) Elizabeth (Maia Gibbons) and a startlingly violent Prioress (Kat Beaty) selling these the best. But the entire script could do with some serious editing, and it’s often lacking in the speed and intrigue a piece of theatre needs when most of the audience is standing throughout. There are a variety of characters, but few distinctive voices, and not nearly enough advantage taken of the various chances for audience interaction like lutes, medieval dancing, wooden swords and potion-mixing, which could really help create some involvement for children.
The show works very well as an advert for the venue, placing the action all over the paths, gardens, cottages and scrub of the Wetlands Centre. However, if you’re there to explore, you may prefer a regular visit as the show only utilises a corner of the vast Centre and doesn’t use the show to tell you about the land, leaving you curious. The experience is enjoyable enough and the London Wetland Centre should certainly continue in its theatrical endeavors, but Robin Hood is currently lacking polish.