A local production of Robin Hood will tell a slightly different tale of Sherwood Forest this winter, with a plot that might hit close to home for some locals.
The adaptation of the classic story, to be written and presented by Yellow Door Theatre Project, depicts the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham as a big bad developer who threatens to build a housing development in the middle of Sherwood Forest.
Naturally, Robin and his band of merry outlaws must find a way to thwart the plans of the Sheriff. Yellow Door’s version will follow the traditional tale in that regard, said Lezlie Wade, the show’s playwright, though she and Yellow Door’s artistic director Andorlie Hillstrom have added a few twists.
Wade’s story takes place “somewhere nearby, in the not too distant future,” and as mandated by Hillstrom, Robin is a young orphan girl — her band is a group of orphan children that wind up sharing a similar fate when their parents are taken away for protesting the development.
Without their parents around, Robin and the other orphan children — John Little, Tuck and Marian to name a few — have to work together to free their families and stop the sheriff from destroying their home.
Both Hillstrom and Wade said they adapted the story with a “certain development” in mind.
The setting is almost Neil Gaiman-esque, with Wade being a big fan of the author.
“(Wade) has done some very fun things with it.”
Wade said when she first found out what Andorlie was looking to do, she went back and started researching the origin of the tale, and realized fairly quickly there is no definitive source material for Robin Hood.
“You kind of can see it when you the movies of it,” Wade said. “You have the men in tights version, and the Sean Connery version … and so that kind of right away let me off the hook a little bit in terms of sticking in any particular time or place.”
“Really, what I took away from all of that is that the ‘take from the rich, give to the poor’ is sort of the main theme, or one of the main themes, and then there’s the Sheriff of Nottingham and there’s Robin Hood and there’s a couple of these guys that we sort of know, which is Friar Tuck and Will Scarlett.”
Changing the gender of Robin wasn’t that difficult of a task, Wade said, though it did play a factor in deciding to set the play in modern times — Wade said she felt there may have been obstacles with a female lead in a medieval setting.
The play has some humour to it, both Wade and Hillstrom said.
Wade’s version of Friar Tuck (just Tuck) is non-denominational religious, and “basically just rips on every religion anyone could have,” she said.
“But he’s the peace-keeper in the group. He wants to talk instead of fight … and then Robin is sort of the confrontational one.”
“And of course, there’s absolutely nothing redeeming about the Sheriff, which is great fun,” said Hillstrom.
“He’s just bad.”
“He revels in it,” Wade said. “He’s a Cruella De-Ville without the dalmatians. He comes from a long line of crooks. He’s Voldemort in Nottingham — every town probably has one of these,” she wrote to Andorlie in the drafts.
“I thought, who would build a housing development in the middle of this beautiful forest?” said Wade.
The Sheriff, “isn’t necessarily referred to as a developer, but he supports them, and so he is part of that whole segment of the society that has literally taken the children away because they were environmentalists and tree-huggers, etcetera,” said Hillstrom.
“I absolutely love the story,” she said.
It’s sort of like the opposite of the Lord of Flies, Wade said.
“The theme of the whole play is about family, loyalty, friendship and doing what’s right. (The kids) each have a role that they’ve played.”
The maid Marian situation is a bit of a surprise which Hillstrom didn’t want to give away.
The character is still female, and starts out under the wing of the Sheriff, before heading off to join Robin’s clan.
“She’s feisty, and she really doesn’t agree with what the Sheriff is doing,” Hillstrom said.
There is a minor love sub-plot between Marian and John Little.
“I still kind of wanted a little bit of a love interest in there,” Wade said.
“It’s very innocent,” Hillstrom said.
Jenny Wright and William Vicars will be the only two performing adults in the show and the music for the play is being adapted by John Luke, who is working long-distance from SanDiego.
“I always incorporate professionals so that there is a mentoring situation as well for the kids, so they get to work on stage with other theatre professionals. The design crew, the stage manager— all of these people, the director, they are all working professionals, and that’s part of the vision for the company … as the kids move into a performance situation.”
“Jenny Wright’s character is fascinating,” said Hillstrom.
“She’s written her so that she starts out as being this underling, this lackey of the Sheriff of Nottingham, so it should be quite humorous, but over the course of the play she finds her own power and mysticism and ends up being a very powerful figure and ends up helping the children achieve what they need to to have their parents returned.”
“Over the past three years, what I’ve chosen to do with the kids is to do something that’s based on a classical children’s story, or literally is a classical children’s story … so this year I was looking for another classic story, and I don’t know why, I was just struck by Robin Hood.”
Hillstrom said she thinks the play may even have the potential to be picked up by another production company.
“Andorlie is amazing,” said Wade.
“She has this reputation in Canada of being this incredible force with children. Many of the people who have started out with Andorlie have gone on to have incredible careers,” said Wade. “What she brings the community, and with those kids — it’s fantastic. I wish she would have been there when I was a kid,”
When asked if the Sherwood Forest was meant to be Randwood, Hillstrom said, it “could be.”
“It’s never actually called that,” she said, with a chuckle.
“I guess there is something here to be said for it being just a little bit on the edge,” Hillstrom said.
“That’s what theatre does,” Wade said. “You draw your own conclusions.”
The show starts Dec. 14 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre’s Robertson Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.