Robyn Hood — This Tale's Even Fairlier
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your quivering quibbler enjoys archers. Hawkeye, Green Arrow & Speedy, Yondu Udonta, the Spider, Artemis, Merida, Moonbow, Huntress, Daryl Dixon, Danielle Moonstar, Kate Bishop, Katniss Everdeen — the heroic archer archetype has a uniquely dashing appeal.
Of course, Robin Hood is the swashbuckling standard, whether played straight by the likes of Errol Flynn (1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Kevin Costner (1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) or for laughs as in Daffy Duck’s Robin Hood Daffy (1958) and Walt Disney’s animated classic Robin Hood (1973), not to mention televised assault on sanity Rocket Robin Hood (1966-1969).
So Robin Hood’s a fairly flexible icon, suitable for both comedy and adventure — and there’s loads of the former (plus a little of the latter) in this season’s Confederation Centre of the Arts community Christmas show, Robyn Hood — This Tale's Even Fairlier. Like the Centre’s earlier Fairly Tall Tale shows written and directed by Adam Brazier, it’s a deliberately goofy jukebox musical take on a classic story.
In this distaff version of the Hood legend, female PEI outlaw Robyn Hood (a lively Maria Campbell) of Sherwood-Parkdale Forest subverts unjust ruler Prince John (Matthew Rainnie) with the aid of her Merry Men and earnest do-gooder Maid Marion (Jessica Gallant), while weepy royal underling the Town Crier (Sarah MacPhee) gets caught in the middle.
The ever-entertaining MacPhee’s fun recurring role as the Town Crier from Brazier’s previous Fairly musicals is greatly expanded here, and Robyn’s Merry Men include a formidable female Friar Tuck (Alana Bridgewater) who doubles as a fittingly gospel-infused musical narrator of sorts, so pretty much all the major roles are gals except for Rainnie. My preteen daughter liked that progressive aspect of the show, especially seeing a female Robin Hood.
She also enjoyed the music, singing along with tunes like “9 to 5,” “Firework” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Plenty of fine vocalists in the cast, and able musician/actor types like guitar-strummers Fraser McCallum & Jordan Cameron (as the Merry Men’s Will Scarlett & Little John) help give the show a fun house party feel, especially in an excellent “Feel the Same Way Too” group number.
This year, Brazier collaborated with co-writer Graham Putnam (also fine here in several small acting roles), and it’s a nice mix. The gleeful, unabashedly silly tone of Brazier’s work endures, but there’s less toilet humour, more pop culture references, more and better local/topical gags, and increasingly frequent, clever fourth-wall-breaking material ranging from amusingly named-and-shamed bit players like Kid One (Noah MacKinnon) to surreal literary crossover character Moody MacPherson (Andrew Clow).
It’s not all comedy gold — the Moody character as written is a bit funnier in concept than he is in execution, as is the Merry Men’s “exchange hoodlum” from Quebec, Déjà vu (Cameron MacDonald) — neither the script nor a nebulously-accented MacDonald ever seems fully certain of what to do with that character.
There’s lots to love here, though, whether it’s oddball supporting players like the Prince’s guards (Duncan MacAulay’s artfully slow-motion battle demise springs to mind) or the uniformly solid main cast, especially the deliciously hammy, hilarious Rainnie, who evokes Peter Ustinov’s classic 1973 version of Prince John without aping it. The Merry Men may be thieves, but Rainnie’s priceless prince steals every scene he’s in — and this play’s all the richer for it.