Theatre review – Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest

Dorian Simpson (JJ), Tom England (Will Scarlet) Pic Craig Fuller Seeking a festive show with love, laughter and unexpected poignancy? Attending Bristol Old Vic’s Christmas show is a firm festive tradition for many families, and 2021’s offering meets and surpasses all expectation. In collaboration with the Wardrobe Ensemble, this retelling of Robin Hood is as imaginative and visually spectacular as you’d expect. In the hands of directors Tom Brennan and Helena Middleton, the production also unexpectedly moving in a way that ensures it lingers.

We open with twelve-year-old school boy JJ (played brilliantly by Dorian Simpson, who succeeded in making me forget his six-foot+ frame so that at times I was truly concerned for the little child’s safety). JJ is a die-hard fan of Robin Hood and, as mentioned in a passing comment, of Oceans Eleven. When he opens a mysterious handwritten book about his favourite folk-hero, he is magically transported back in time to the 13th century.

What follows is a glorious mash-up of medieval adventure and Hollywood heist. If you’ve seen any of the Wardrobe’s previous film re-imaginings, you’ll be unsurprised by how beautifully this works.

Robin’s Merry Crew have long since disbanded due to a tragedy no one wants to talk about. That leaves JJ with the task of getting the gang back together, which requires family man Will Scarlet (a witty and urbane Tom England), a really angry Maid Marion (the convincingly lethal Katya Quist), and drunken, gambling Friar Tuck (embodied by Jesse Meadows with fabulous comic aplomb).

Jesse Meadows as Friar Tuck.

Jesse Meadows as Friar Tuck.

But the first task is to convince Robin Hood that she actually wants to step back into the role of hero.

Bristol Old Vic and the Wardrobe Ensemble are never too concerned about sticking to gender norms, and in this case , Kerry Lovell is the perfect casting for the troubled ex-outlaw as she unwillingly reunites with her former friends under JJ’s ebullient insistence and absolute belief.

Kerry Lovell (Robin) and Dorian Simpson (JJ), Pic Craig Fuller

Kerry Lovell as Robin and Dorian Simpson as JJ

JJ’s determination that they should all wear bright green tights adds to the visual humour (not least at Meadows Friar Tuck somehow manages to tuck her robes into hers, creating the portly figure earlier incarnations have presented.

The Sheriff of Nottingham is on the brink of celebrating his 29th birthday for at least the second year, while fleecing his subjects of every hard-earn penny. With a page-boy wig that keeps his evil persona comic rather than terrifying, actor James Newton expertly crafts a spoilt but deadly rich boy who craves love but only knows how to inspire ridicule and fear.

James Newton as The Sheriff with the company. Pic Craig Fuller

James Newton as The Sheriff with the company.

There are nods to the film productions JJ and much of the audience grew up with, as well as more modern movie and TV references, not least a sing-off and a dance-off. Look out for Will Scarlet ascending from above the stage in a lime-green body suit, plenty of sword-fighting from Robin and the Sheriff, and some exceptional slow motion running from the full Merry Crew. There’s also an outstanding kiss that will make you want to cheer.

Original compositions from Tom Crosley-Thorne alongside some familiar tunes had the audience clapping along, and there was a sense of being part of the story throughout.

This is a hugely enjoyable theatrical extravaganza crammed with jokes, drama and a few tears as well as a strong message about friendship and self-forgiveness. Exactly what’s needed on a dark winter’s day.

Photos by Craig Fuller.

Robin Hood: Legend of the Forgotten Forest is on at Bristol Old Vic until at 8 Jan 2022. There are specific socially-distanced performances, signed, captioned, relaxed and audio described performances during the run. Find out more and get your tickets.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, please get in touch.

Writing prompt – missive

Let It Snow by Judy DarleyThis time last year, things seemed particularly challenging globally thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. In Bristol, we were festively distracted by seasonal song lyrics being projected  as light installations across buildings after nightfall.

Given your choice, what message would you sweep across your landscape? Would you opt for a missive of hope, a warning, or a note to remind someone you’re thinking of them? If the latter, who would you write it to?

What affect would you expect your word or words to have on neighbours and those further afield? What action might it move them to take?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Novella review – Small Things by Hannah Sutherland

Small Things book cover.Book Balm recommendation: read when you want to taste the bitter-sweetness of love entwined with loss.

Despite its title, Hannah Sutherland’s novella is all about the biggest things in life: friendship, true love, family and loss. Meet Jude, eighteen years old, and as drunk as his dad, Paddy is notorious for being. Now meet Madeline, the young woman who will one day become Jude’s mum. Slip-sliding deftly back and forth through time, each chapter presents a different moment from the lives of four people: Madeline, Paddy, Jude’s beloved best friend Kit and Jude himself, the glow at the centre that the other three orbit around.

There’s so much hope, affection and heartbreak woven into these strung-together stories that at times it’s almost hard to bear. Vulnerability is vividly drawn, not least in The character assassination, a goosebump-inducing account of a parents’ evening in which Jude observes as “Mammy raises her chin and puts on a façade of confidence, seemingly unbothered, which Jude knows will tire her to bed for the next few days.”

This is also our first meeting with Kit, and subtly indicates what these two boys will mean to one another.

Sutherland has a knack for seeding in truths you’ll understand without needing them spelled out, and barely aware of the clues you’ve absorbed until they accumulate and you feel as though you’ve always known.

We, Kit and Jude, invincible captures the exquisite verve and naivety of youth: “We cycle for hours, doing everything and nothing. We build a den in your garden (…) Place your beloved tartan blanket over the top, a temporary sky for us to gaze up at.”

You is a gorgeously tender chapter, written with sparkling honesty from Kit to Jude. “You walk up to me and there’s something inside me, like a butterfly, or a bursting burn, a volcano on the brink, fluttering, rumbling…”

This method of writing directly from the heart of one character to another places us directly at the hub both of action and contemplation. It makes us privy to much that is left unspoken, which gives us an omnipotent view that I found made me care deeply for the key players.

The yearning to and impossibility of protecting those we care for from all harm shines throughout too, heightening the potency of the varieties of love encompassed here. At times you may want to pause to fully absorb the emotions rising from these pages.

Challenging topics pattern scenes like wallpaper, often visible on the peripheral without demanding your full attention. Madeline’s mental illness and grief for her “halfway babies” is explored gently through both Madeline and Jude, as well as bonding Jude to Kit, who has his own “halfway sister.” This shared understanding of what’s it’s like to be framed in the light of those lost is written with startling surety, delivered alongside the understated but distressing revelation of the threats Kit faces at home, with the “bruises on his wrist. choking it like an ugly beaded bracelet.”

Many of the titles speak volumes by themselves. Examples include Losing your virginity, yourself and your preferences.

Paddy’s love for Madeline draws a ‘before and after’ line diagonally through this complex and rich novella, evoking empathy in his less dignified moments.

But it’s the purity of Jude’s feelings for Kit that will stay with you, longing for the innocence of a childhood garden den with a tartan blanket keeping all the world’s dangers firmly at bay.

Small Things by Hannah Sutherland is published by AdHoc FictionBuy your copy.

This book was given to me in exchange for a fair review.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com. Likewise, if you’ve published or produced something you’d like me to review, please get in touch.

Enter the Orna Ross Green Stories Prize for eco-novels

Arnos Vale light in the canopy. Photo by Judy Darley
The Orna Ross Green Stories Novel Prize is seeking adult novels showcasing what a sustainable society might look like.

The deadline for entries is 30th December 2021, making this the perfect chance to end the year on a positive, eco-friendly note!

There is a cash prize of £1000 for the winner and £500 for the runner up.

Green Stories aims to create a cultural body of work that entertains and informs about green solutions, inspires green behaviour and raises awareness of the necessary transformations towards a sustainable economy.

A particular aim is to use fiction as a way to reach an audience beyond those who already strive to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle, and to support winning authors to translate their stories into published books.

Entry is free, but entrants must show they have read at least one chapter from successfully published pieces from the Green Stories project that provide an example of entertaining mainstream fiction that meets the criteria of showing green solutions (not just problems) that readers can engage with.

Habitat Man book coverThis year the book is Habitat Man by D. A. Baden, an eco-themed rom-com and murder mystery written specifically for the Green Stories project. The submission survey will include a short easy quiz to demonstrate that you’ve read the extract.

Length: Submit three chapters* (minimum of 4000 words, maximum 10,000 words) of a 70,000 – 95,000-word novel as one document that must include the following:

  • the first chapter
  • another chapter that best showcases how your novel meets the green stories criteria
  • a third chapter (suggest the final chapter if possible)
  • a synopsis between 500 and 1000 words (name and contact details optional – we can identify via submission page) that covers genre, plot, characters, and details of how it meets the green stories criteria of showcasing positive visions of a more sustainable society or incorporating green solutions into the context of an otherwise mainstream story.

You can submit more than three chapters if you need to, in order to make up to 4,000 words. If you reach the shortlist, Green Stories may request more chapters or the full novel from the best entries to help them choose a winner.

Eligibility

Open to all adults (18+) of any nationality, as long as the submission is in English and has not been published elsewhere.

All submissions must conform to the green stories criteria of showcasing positive visions of a more sustainable society or incorporating green solutions into the context of an otherwise mainstream story.

The competition is open to novels that are either:

–          Partially complete (at least 50%) in the first draft phase
–          Fully complete and unpublished (between 70,000 and 100,000 words).

Prizes

£1000 for the winner and £500 for runner up, plus the following: 

A half-price manuscript appraisal by established literary consultancy Daniel Goldsmith, worth £300 to £400, will be available to the authors of the top three entries.

Winners will also have the choice of either a one-to-one mentoring session with the winners (at their office in London or virtually) with literary agency Redhammer Management, or a package of self-publishing support from the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) set up by Orna Ross including a year’s membership of ALLI and a free pass to the Self-Publishing Advice Conference.

Publishing is just half the battle, to help winners achieve sales we will promote the winning book (once published) via our networks.

Submission

Find the full details of how to submit your novel excerpt entry here: https://www.greenstories.org.uk/upcoming-competitions/adult-novel-deadline-dec-2021/.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – Tree Week

St Johns Burial Ground tree by Judy DarleyAs we reach the midway point of National Tree Week, this feels like the perfect excuse to revel in the sheer magic of our lofty companions. As a child, I spent a lot of time exploring the wonder of their leafy worlds. I loved how you could be enclosed by their branches and hidden from view, and how they were home to so many creatures too.

The dramatically twisty tree above stands on the slopes of Bristol’s St John’s Burial Ground.

It seems natural to me that trees crop up in so many imaginative tales, from Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree Adventures to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles (well, how to you think that wardrobe came to be?), not to mention J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth Ents.

Do you have a favourite tree or one you notice daily? Can you write it into a tale of epic proportions or emotive depths? It could be where your protagonist shelters while eavesdropping on a conversation that changes their opinion about a key topic. Or could you feature a tale of tree planting that changes our future for the better?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I may publish it on SkyLightRain.com.