Manchester Theatre: Robin Hood at The Lowry

Kevin Bourke

We discover how a new adaptation of the classic Robin Hood story has its sights set on the next generation of children’s theatre.

The Library Theatre Company’s reputation for quality Christmas shows is second to none. Last year’s production of Arabian Nights was an especially splendid offering and achieved nominations for three separate Manchester Theatre Awards. Now its director, Darwen-born Amy Leach, has returned to take command of the company’s festive family offering for 2013: Wanted! Robin Hood opens at The Lowry on 29 November. Written by Charles Way, the play is a brand new adaptation of the tale of Sherwood Forest’s legendary hero, who has also, curiously enough, inspired the Octagon Theatre in Bolton’s family show this Christmas. So what is the enduring attraction of Robin Hood?

“There will always be an audience for the Robin Hood story,” writer Charles Way argues. “It’s a timeless tale that appeals to all generations. Everyone can identify with a particular kind of hero – young, talented, cheeky, strong, romantic, and above all, a good laugh. So step forward, Robin Hood.” Director Amy Leach also takes a quick break from rehearsals to speak to us. She admits that, “it does seem to be everywhere at the moment, doesn’t it? I think that’s something to do with the fact that it’s a story where you’ve got some very rich people in charge. Charles’ merry men are disaffected youth in a way and it somehow feels very true to these recessionary times that you’ve got this group of rascals rallying together against corrupt authority figures.”

The merry men are disaffected youth in a way

With such pertinent themes, this is definitely not all fun and games: Leach is one of those brave directors who has tried to up the stakes in Christmas amusement over the last few years. Shows like Wanted! Robin Hood or War Horse mean that it’s no longer just panto that families can go to see over the Christmas season. Theatrical alternatives have begun to walk the entertainment tightrope, balancing the needs of both the children and adults that go to see them. Leach has her own take on these new levels of sophistication: “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that people are taking work for families seriously. Now you don’t so often have to explain when you say you’re doing Robin Hood that it’s not the panto. Not that I want to rubbish pantos, which I cut my teeth on when I was eleven years old, but as we’ve been going through this play it’s sometimes seemed almost like the Shakespearian version in terms of the language and how high the stakes are. But,” she is keen to emphasise, “it’s still very funny and very magical.”

Since time immemorial, stories have offered children a way of grasping the world they live in, and Wanted! is an imaginative reinvention of one of the country’s favourite tales for a new generation. But Leach is also alive to the challenge of marrying this new version with the cultural memories that adult watchers will bring with them. She was asked if she would direct the company’s next show while Arabian Nights was still playing and reveals that, even before she’d seen a script, she, “started making a long list of all the things that I thought an audience would expect when they’re coming to see Robin Hood. There isn’t one story of Robin Hood that’s in existence, there are lots of ballads and bits of legends. So what people expect of Robin Hood as a story onstage is partly based on all the different adaptations they’ve seen. What we’re trying to do here is to tick the boxes of the things people want to see, but also to push them so they think ‘Oh, this is better than whacking on the Kevin Costner DVD!’”

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