Newfangled ‘Robin Hood’ a biting satire
In the three years since ITSAZOO Productions first staged co-founder Sebastien Archibald’s Grimm Tales at Queen Elizabeth Park, the Olympics have come and gone, homelessness in the city has continued to spread like a cancer, and provincial arts funding has been slashed. And while this never-ending quagmire of hopelessness feels rather suffocating, it’s proved to be just the material Archibald needed to write Robin Hood, his most incisive and cathartic work to date.
Loosely arranged around the familiar premise of the original Robin Hood, which detailed the uprising of the working class against the rich, this production is set in a not-so-fictionalized Vancouver where Mayor Nottingham (Archibald), evil MLA Rich White (David Benedict Brown), and power-hungry, Taser-happy Chief Gisborne (Julie Church) plot to strip citizens of their civil liberties and pump wads of cash into landing the “International Big Deal.”
Robin Hood (Chris Cook) and his band of merry thieves steal from the rich to give to the poor, ultimately kidnapping MLA White’s daughter, the spoiled Marion (Kaitlin Williams), in the hope that her ransom will fund Robin and Little John’s (Colby Wilson) dream: a huge mansion with beds and resources for homeless people. After she’s roughed up by Chief Gisborne’s cops simply because they think she’s homeless, Marion joins Robin and the group to help defeat her father and the Mayor.
As this is a roving-theatre experience, the audience is led throughout Queen Elizabeth Park by Alan (Joel Stephanson), a minstrel-busker whose own story is heartbreakingly familiar: he has kids, loses his job and can’t find another one, which leaves him grappling with a depression that, in turn, manifests as substance dependency. It’s a dark, vicious cycle, and one that’s likely all too real.
The cast is energetic and youthful. Cook excels in his role as leading man, with a cocky charm that doesn’t detract from Robin’s believability. It’s also almost impossible to keep one’s eyes off Wilson in any of his scenes, so compelling is his line delivery and presence.
There’s plenty of bleak humour to be mined from this oft-unfortunate reality, and Archibald is fearless in turning scathing indictment into incisive satire. At times he branches into preaching territory, particularly with Marion, who’s often saddled with spelling out the obvious (i.e., poor people are no less deserving than the wealthy). What Archibald and ITSAZOO accomplish recalls their efforts with last summer’s Canterbury Tales, which also used theatre as a venue in which to call for social change. For those stymied by Vancouver’s seemingly insurmountable social ills, Robin Hood is both a breath of fresh air and a fire under your ass.
Robin Hood runs to Aug. 19 at Queen Elizabeth Park (Main at 33rd; audience meets at Bloedel Conservatory), 7pm. $13-$17 from ITSAZOO.org or 778-888-2435.