Review: Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood

By Cameron Beech

An exuberant, witty yet heartfelt performance brimming with comedic one-liners and side-splitting dialogue, Foot of the Hill Theatre Company’s Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood explores themes of sexuality, identity, gender-reversal and what it means to be female amidst the backdrop of medieval Nottingham, within the realm of Robin Hood.

The audience is guided through the performance by Alanna Dale, played by the talented Megan Ratcliffe, who utterly shatters the fourth wall and immerses the audience into the realm of Robin Hood; from hilarious scene breakdowns to intimate deliverances of what Alanna feels at that current moment, Ratcliffe perfectly encapsulates Alanna’s animated character and enthusiasm for adventure, and is most definitely a rising star on the Durham Student Theatre scene. Through Alanna’s commentary, the audience is taken through the life of Marian, maiden to the prince and also Robin Hood, as she leads a double life of both man and woman, and where women are required to gender swap in order to bring about justice. You get the comedic element of an entire cast of characters completely oblivious to Robin’s true identity, and yet there is an undertone of sombreness in the idea that for women to be respectable fighters, they must be male, an idea poignantly explored when Marian asserts to Alanna that she must become a man if she is to join the merry men. With every aspect of comedy underlies a sadder misogynistic reality for the women of the play, which makes this play all the more refreshing: nothing is without consequence. However, I did indeed chuckle every time Marian would use her ‘lady troubles’ to divert the men and escape imprisonment.

The level of detail gone into mere seconds of sound exaggerates the sheer volume of passion gone into this

The impressive soundscape included the likes of shooting arrows, squeaking beds and a Prince John questionably moaning his relative’s name post-coitus. The level of detail gone into mere seconds of sound exaggerates the sheer volume of passion gone into this. The audience sing-a-long to medieval Hips Don’t Lie and All Star was simply icing on the theatrical cake.

Special mention has to of course go to the movement director, Kate Broekman, whose beautifully choreographed fight scenes culminate in powerful moments of conflict, and was only further elevated through the use of in-the-round theatre; the audience became immersed in the combat, sword fights taking place around every corner, and the audience in the midst of the battlefield. I held my breath every moment a weapon was swung, or an actor charged; think Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, but instead of an arena, it’s Kenworthy Hall. Directors and curate perfectly a balance between the humorous and the serious through integrating critical discussions surrounding sexuality, non-binary identification and gender roles into this reshaping of Robin Hood, incorporating current generational topics of discussion to a classical tale; the contemporary intermingles with the modern, questions of gender politics and existentialist understandings of who we are and what is our purpose serve to enliven the often overlooked classical tale. Special mention goes to Rhiannon Morgan, for truly she was a character of consequence as her performance as Tommy of No Consequence touched members of the audience, made them chuckle and crave justice for her death of supposedly ‘no consequence.’ From the moment the characters made their debut, they dominated the space with their exuberant and spritely personalities, to the extent that one would struggle to hear dialogue over the absolute roars of laughter flowing through the audience.  Special commendation for comedic deliverance has to go to the amazing Prince John, played by Luke Mallon, for his flawless comedic timing and theatrically extravagant characterisation had me fixated on him the moment he stepped on the stage. He commanded the audience’s attention, and attention he got. What is truly praiseworthy about this play is the fact each character has their own individuated personality, evident in the equal volume of applause each actor received.

From the moment the characters made their debut, they dominated the space with their exuberant and spritely personalities, to the extent that one would struggle to hear dialogue over the absolute roars of laughter flowing through the audience

From the character of no consequence, and the horny friar, to the determined archeress and melodramatic prince, this modern retelling of a classic fable is nothing short of a triumph in storytelling, comedic timing and on-stage chemistry.

Image credit: Foot of the Hill Theatre Company

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