A quiver of excitement as York Theatre Royal rewrites top flight Robin Hood

Sometimes it takes a woman to make a legend. Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny, the big summer production from York Theatre Royall, puts a fresh spin on the legend of the Sherwood Forest outlaw as it’s left to Maid Marian to save the day and beat the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham.

Times are hard for the poor people of Nottingham, which means things have never been better for the wicked Sheriff and his tax collectors.

But, never fear, everything’s bound to turn out fine as soon as Robin Hood comes to the rescue. After all, he’s renowned for robbing the rich to give to the poor. Except what happens when he doesn’t?

Siobhan Athwal, who appeared in the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever! and Romeo and Juliet at Shakespeare’s Globe, plays a very modern Maid Marian with Neil Reynolds, from BAFTA award-winning CBBC series Secret Life of Boys, making his stage debut as Robin.

Stage Review interrupted rehearsals to speak to the pair about the show.

NEIL REYNOLDS What did you know about the Robin Hood legend before being cast in the show?

I’d heard of him, of course. The Disney cartoon – it’s a classic with Robin as the cheeky fox. He stole from the rich to give to the poor. He was the people’s champion and the people’s hero. And I played Robin in a school play when I was young although I don’t remember much about it.

How would you describe Robin in the York production?

Very aloof, open, honest, happy-go-lucky, wears his heart on his sleeve. He always sees the good in people. He’s lovable but a bit reluctant to get involved. You want to go to him, ‘Come on, you can do it’. Everyone wants the best for Robin and Maid Marian is trying to mould him into this hero.

Is Robin like you?

I am very innocent at times. I relate to him a lot because he does walk on clouds. He’s a happy guy. He’s not really moody and neither am I.

Any romance between Robin and Marian?

Their relationship is really innocent. A friendship. Like in primary school where boys and girls are friends. It’s like ‘you really like me, I really like you, you’re such a cool person’.

You’ve appeared in the CBBC BAFTA award-winning series Secret Life of Boys but Robin Hood marks your professional stage debut – how has it been?

I was really nervous at the start. With television, you just sit on your own for a bit, read your script and are in your own space, then go on camera, do what you have to do with everyone, then someone says ‘Cut’ and you go back on your own.

In theatre everyone is like a unit with different people from all walks of life.

Why should people come and see Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny?

It’s got singing, dancing, rapping. It’s got heart. It’s really funny as well.

I’m not being biased but every day we rehearse for the whole day and even at five o’clock I’m still laughing my head off. I’ve seen the same scene being done 18 times in a row and I’m still laughing.

What’s it like working with a company of 30 young people, aged 8 to 15, who play villagers and merry men, and operate the puppets?​

It reminds you of when you started and you encourage them as I was encouraged. I was 10 when I first acted in ‘a little soap on Channel 5’. Then at 11 I was in Peter Pan in pantomime.

It takes you back to your roots because I was the same age as many of the kids in the show when I started and when you’re young you want to go up to the main cast and ask them questions. When the kids are around you’ll always see me with a smile. I’ll always been happy to talk to them.

SIOBHAN ATHWAL How would you describe Maid Marian in this version of Robin Hood?

What struck me about Marian is that over the years there have been different variations of her character, usually as a damsel in distress.

This York version really gripped me because she’s not a damsel in distress in any way. She takes back who she is and what has got lost over the years. She’s a strong woman, a believer, a go-getter.

So she’s a modern woman?

It’s a current reflection of society – it’s about other people accepting us and who we are. In our production Marian very much has a journey in herself as well as living up to other people’s expectations.

It’s a very colourful journey and an honour to play this part the way Richard (Hurford) has written it, and Damien (Cruden) and Suzann (McLean) are directing it.

You were in the Spice Girls musical Viva Forever! in the West End, what are the songs like in Robin Hood?

The songs are important because they further the story and the narrative. I love the ones that are rap where Neil and I can do a bit of ad-libbing, add a bit of flavour. We vibe off each other.

What did you learn from working on the Spice Girls musical?

They were my idols and I have nothing but good memories. Mel C, Mel B, Emma, Victoria and Geri are a really lovely group of people.

Was I nervous working with them? Thinking back, I wasn’t actually starstruck to the point I was speechless. Maybe that was because they were so inviting and warm.

It was literally I was conversing with them like old friends. They didn’t make me nervous at all. It was a lovely time, I have such fond memories.

Why should people come and see Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny?

You can be inspired. We’re saying, ‘look what’s possible. Go and do it’.

Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny, written by Richard Hurford with an original score by Rob Castell, is co-directed by Suzann McLean and Damian Cruden and stars Siobhan Athwal, Neil Reynolds, John Elkington, Trevor A Toussaint, Joanna Holden and Ed Thorpe.

Suzann McLean told Stage Review :”Robin Hood has been everyone’s hero throughout history, and even though he is a myth, we aspire to his qualities.

“This is very much the role of Marian in our version. She uses her belief in Robin to become the brilliant human being that she is; a courageous leader, fighting injustice and standing up for her people.”

Fellow director Damian added: “It’s the story of Robin Hood told from a different perspective. There are lots of surprises in our version but the familiar story and characters are all there – the Sheriff of Nottingham, the forest, the May Day festival with the archery competition and, of course, there’s tax collecting.

The music is great and all original. There will be a lovely energy to it. It’s a show for all the family and promises to be a lot of fun.”

Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny runs at York Theatre Royal from August 4 to September 2.

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