Festival Antigonish’s pandemic-inspired choice to leave the Bauer Theatre to stage its first outdoor show – a massive, immersive, theatrical spectacle at Keppoch Mountain – is a bold and visionary one.
Robin Hood: The Great Escape, written by artistic director Andrea Boyd and Antigonish theatre artist Laura Teasdale, is a blast. The 15-day run is sold out with the possibility of some seats opening up after Aug. 19.
Excitement among the actors, volunteer guides and the audience bubbles up before the show even starts. After driving down a dirt road to Keppoch people walk uphill on a gravel path to a mainstage area of log stumps and hay bales for seats. Then the cast fills the stage for a comedic re-telling of the classic tale with song and contemporary references.
The star of the show, directed by Boyd, is the entire ensemble of professional and community actors in an impressive machinery of staging.
After the first scene, the audience is divided into groups of 20 led from scene to scene as the sun sets and perhaps a moon appears before a re-gathering for the adventure’s finale. (My group was hosted by Michael Gillis as an out-of-work, medieval cobbler. Gillis is a comical improviser who could whip up a crowd at a dinner theatre as easily as whipping cream on a humid day.)
The co-writers go for a racy and a woke script in broad, comedic strokes with Shakespearean-style sexual innuendo and a contemporary mindset of feminism, inclusion, diversity and non-heterosexual love. The story’s timeless focus on injustice and the iron rule of tyrants echoes Trump and evil lords, past and present.
The Merry Men are all outcasts, male and female, for one reason or another. Midge, played with verve by Karen Bassett, has been cast out as a witch because she assists pregnant women. Friar Tuck, in a gentle, captivating performance by recent Dalhousie acting grad Aquila Wibisono, is a Sumatran monk who once committed violence and who reads the I Ching to predict the future.
Little John has been switched to Lil Joan and Laura Teasdale is wonderful as the tough, ballsy, sweaty, hotheaded fighter, often opposed to James MacLean’s brawny and brainy Will Scarlett.
Kevin Curran is the evil Sheriff, an amusingly dumb man who wants all land and power (and Maid Marian!) for himself. Naomi Vogt is memorable as his sour, smart, eager-to-kill sidekick Gal of Gisbourne.
Matt Lacas as Robin is full of the expected derring-do but also expresses notes of real pain, while Rachel Lloyd is a high-spirited, loving, feminist Maid Marian. Antigonish favourite Wally MacKinnon is the quiet, regal King Richard.
Robin Hood: The Great Adventure makes good use of music with outstanding costumes (designed by Elizabeth Perry ) from Maid Marian’s gowns to guards’ armour to sweat-stained, medieval outfits and with vivid and imaginative set and props design by Laura Stinson including a stunning surprise in large-scale puppetry.
The story is told in energetic scenes except for a lovely tender conversation between Tuck and the bard (Noella Murphy) as they prepare for a prank. Fight director Karen Bassett excels in creating a marvellous, Merry Men, fight-training scene with great sparring between Lil Joan and Will.
In all this production involves four full-time staff; four contract front-line staff; three design team members, three stage managers, 10 professional actors and 93 volunteers.
For more details go to: Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre