One of the most ambitious shows to wow a Winnipeg audience in years, this fractured fairy tale doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its considerable parts.
That’s right. I’m the Grinch who says THORH isn’t a five star play. It’s very, very good, with great moments, but there are enough flaws that it misses the target of Future Broadway Hit (though it comes closer than any of RMTC’s other efforts over the past decade).
The show’s design is amazing. I’ve never written about design first in a review, but director Gisli Örn Garđarsson’s A-Team of designers deserve top billing. Börkur Jónsson’s set dominates the performance: a steep, grassed ramp serves as an entrance slide and jungle gym underneath sprawling, twinkling oak branches. The possibilities it offers the cast – a climbing wall, a surprise entry, hidden windows and levels – make it the show’s most consistent performer. Emma Ryott’s costumes clothe the evening in a cheeky sexiness and Graeme S. Thomson’s evocative lights show off Sherwood to great effect.
The cast tumble, flip and fight their merry manhoods off under those lights. The Heart of Robin Hood is, at heart, a circus show (a friend’s observation) and the combination of aerial dance, rope tricks, stage fights and theatrical showmanship regularly had the audience gasping. If the company do start repeating themselves over the show’s two and a half hours (including intermission), they’re guided by a director who understands the staying power of imagery – the final stage picture is a gem audiences will treasure for years.
On top of flying up and down ropes and ramps, most of the cast turn in solid performances, with Izzie Steele’s Marion and Gabriel Ebert’s Robin nimbly jumping between period romance and modern ironic satire. They’re given extra pep in their step by the excellent Connecticut bluegrass band Parsonfield, whose pre-show set whoops the crowd’s energy – and expectations – up.
With so much going for it, why is the show not a knockout? Mostly the script. While Farr has some fun recasting Maid Marion as the ethical vigilante of Sherwood, struggling to unearth the heart of a thuggish Robin Hood, there’s far less depth of drama or heights of comedy than you’d hope for. It barely scratches the surface as a feminist reboot of Robin Hood’s tale, neither does it linger on the hardships of the less fortunate. If Farr was dodging that material to make for a light comedy, it would make sense, but THORH actually has trouble finding its stride when it comes to laughs, particularly Euan Morton’s campy Prince John.
Is it worth seeing? Absolutely, but a perfect bull’s eye it ain’t. Hopefully there will be some more tinkering between Winnipeg and the Great White Way.
The Heart of Robin Hood
By David Farr
Songs by Parsonfield
John Hirsch Stage (RMTC)
Through Dec. 6
Directed by Gisli Örn Garđarsson; with Anna Bartlam, Richard Clarkin, Jeremy Crawford, Gabriel Ebert, Zachary Eisenstat, Paul Essiembre, Troy Feldman, Greg Hovanessian, Martin Julien, Christian Lloyd, Tristan Mackid, Katelyn McCullock, Meguire McRae-King, Euan Morton, Sarah Schenkkan, Stephen Michael Spencer, Izzie Steele, Darcy Stewart and Tate Yap; set design by Börkur Jónsson; costume design by Emma Ryott; lighting design by Graeme S. Thomson; sound design by Jonathan Deans and Garth Helm; music supervision by Kris Kukul; fight direction by Joe Bostick; dialect coaching by Eric Armstrong; creative consulting by Walter Bobbie; associate direction and choreography by Selma Björnsdóttir; assistant lighting design by George Quan; associate sound design by Brian Walters; casting by Stephanie Gorin Casting CDC/CSA, Telsey + Company, William Cantler CSA and Karyn Casl CSA; casting assistance by Brendan Wilcocks; company management by Charles Chu; company management assistance by Anika Nater; production stage management by The. John Gray; stage managed by Kim Brown; assistant stage managed by Sandra McEwing; apprentice stage managed and child chaperoning by Janine Nater; artistic interning by Díana Rut Kristinsdóttir.