Back in the Hood [by Matt Baker]
Following a twelve month hiatus, The Outfit Theatre Company returns to the stage with possibly their most commercially and critically successful of enterprises; the kids’ holiday show. The ensemble nature of the company’s management has been reduced to the show’s producers; Sarah Graham and Ema Barton, seemingly in exchange for a plethora of writers; Colin Garlick, Andrew Ford, Jatinder Singh, and Christ Tempest, who have been charged with penning yet another adaptation of the legend of Robin Hood.
Said titular legend is played by Jordan Mooney, a truly fearless actor, whose commitment to the role has children (surprisingly) quietly engaged. A quick gesture or line to the audience, however, has both adults and children laughing out loud, the fourth-wall comedy proving to be the most successful. As the Sheriff of Nottingham, Ford uses his full vocal range and the physical particularisations unique to pantomime to present a brilliant caricature. His dastardly drive, with hints of Alan Rickman, picks up the energy of every scene into which he enters, regardless of the fact that there is very little motivation behind the character other than a stereotypically villainous ethos.
Amanda Tito is hilariously sweet as the gender-reversed Will Scarlet, with a Robin Hood infatuation that is sadly underachieved in the writing, her comedic timing perfectly pitched and energised so as to interject the dialogue without breaking the pace of any scene. Maid Marian typically fails the Bechdel test, magnified when once again the writing is cut short when the character becomes most interesting, although Jacqui Nauman selflessly serves the purpose. Cole Jenkins’ Prince John sits somewhere between the previous three, with well-timed, stereotypically foppish asides and maniacal laughter.
Brad Johnson and James Jennings, as the familiar Little John and obscure Allen a Dale respectively, cover the majority of physical feats required of any pantomime, but their well-oiled choreography is in lieu of the rest of their timing as a double act. Lauren Gibson’s Blind Old Woman and Simon Ward’s Friar Tuck act as little more than deus ex machinas, and all four provide the humour that is clearly intended for the children. The most notable newcomer to the legend is Sir Guy of Gisborne, played by Singh. It is a well-conceptualised addition to both the style and the content of this adaptation, and is a perfect example of the writers’ strength when wandering from the source material.
The promise of songs and dances is weakly realised, with a poorly constructed opening number, although the protracted fight sequences more than make up for it. Costumes, by Gayle Jackson, and weapons, by Bruce Graham, are simply irreproachable. Direction, by Tempest, is suitably grand (although there are moments where close-quartered exchanges mean actors need to be aware of audience members behind them both vocally and visually), but borders on aimless movement from time to time, occasionally failing to use the space appropriately. The situation isn’t helped by Rachel Marlow’s blanket lighting design, although the stylised moments are nicely executed by operator Tim Bell. Sound design by George Platt, Tempest, and Bell, is possibly the strongest element in the show (the mandatory Yakety Sax is always a crowd pleaser), but, like some of the writing, is underutilised.
It’s possible that the year long break has resulted in a surprisingly tentative production from The Outfit. Nevertheless, the success of this seasonal show (seemingly replacing both the mid-year school holiday kids’ show and end-of-year Christmas show) is how well it is received by the families that attend, and there’s simply no reason not to take the family.
Robin Hood is presented by The Outfit Theatre Company and plays at TAPAC until 14 December. For details see TAPAC.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Nik Smythe