BWW Review: ROBIN HOOD at Serenbe Playhouse
In our family album, there is a photograph of me at around 18 months old, and I'm crying. Though I have no memory of the moment that's been captured for posterity, I've been told that I had just gotten a smidge of dirt on my pink dress. I try not to think about this as I traverse the muddy embankment, heading for the forest clearing where Serenbe Playhouse's immersive, site-specific production of Robin Hood, a new adaptation by Rachel Teagle under the direction of Paul McGill, plays throughout the summer. I decline the bug spray at the check-in point. In retrospect, that's probably a mistake. I approach the clearing and find my seat on a wooden bench. In front of me, dozens of children have taken spots on the ground on appropriately Robin Hood-y colored blankets. It's clear to me that they are ready for a grand adventure. A little girl in yellow jelly sandals lies on her stomach with her chin propped in her hands. She is ready. A little boy with a cowlick doles out goldfish crackers from a plastic baggie to the children sitting near him. He is ready. They are all ready. And what they get is a very pleasant morning of theatre.
The story is a familiar one. Robin Hood, a noble outlaw, having developed quite a reputation for stealing from the rich to give to the overburdened poor, has attracted the attention of the Sheriff of Nottingham. And that's not a good thing. Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men must use their full arsenal of skills, including superior sword fighting moves and crafty disguise, to defeat the evil Sheriff.
As is often the case at Serenbe Playhouse, the setting for this immersive experience is nothing short of spectacular (even without bug spray). And it all seems so simple, probably deceptively so. A clearing, a few platforms high in the trees, a rope bridge. As the play begins, the audience is encouraged to yell "Huzzah" as loud as they can, a challenge much enjoyed by the blanket dwellers, and then, as Robin Hood zips into the Sheriff of Nottingham's archery contest (literally, he zip-lines in!), the forest clearing becomes Sherwood Forest, the famous stomping ground of Robin Hood. The zip-lining stunts and the wonderful fight scenes from the rope bridge work to create a grand spectacle that is, alone, worth the price of admission.
The cast, mostly comprised of actors from Serenbe's 2017-2018 Apprentice Company, do a good job with a challenging script. Though they have a few sound difficulties specific to the setting that are exacerbated by a few diction problems, probably arising from the adoption of English accents, they keep the energy very high, a must for retaining the attention of the 4- and 5-year-olds. Kenny Tran, in his turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham, is especially adept at panning the script for humor. In addition, his performance is big and exaggerated, which is exactly right here. When a script for a young audience throws around a lot of $5 words like "treason," "justice," and "overtaxed," there better be something to laugh at or the goldfish crackers are going to become the main attraction.
Overall, Serenbe Playhouse's much-lauded talent for finding new magic in a beloved old story is on full display in the forest clearing at Serenbe this summer. And, as they say in the forest, "Huzzah!"
Robin Hood plays at the Farmer's Market Hideaway at Serenbe through August 27.