Ken Ludwig’s ‘Robin Hood!’ Earns Its Exclamation Point
Newly commissioned Globe play pays homage to Errol Flynn film
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Cinematic Robin Hoods
"Robin Hood" (Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., 1922)
"The Adventures of Robin Hood" (Errol Flynn, 1938)
"Walt Disney's Robin Hood" (voiced by Brian Bedford, 1973)
"Robin and Marian" (Sean Connery, 1976)
"Time Bandits" (John Cleese, 1981)
"Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (Cary Elwes, 1993)
"Robin Hood" (Russell Crowe, 2010)
Robin Hood is an iconic character in film and literature. The Old Globe Theatre serves up its own version of the heroic outlaw in its newly commissioned play from Ken Ludwig called "Robin Hood!"
Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood in the 1938 film "The Adventures of Robin Hood" is the yardstick by which we have come to judge all other incarnations of the English outlaw who stole from the rich to give to the poor. He is also the inspiration for Ken Ludwig’s new play "Robin Hood!"
"I think there is some added loveliness in that [Ken Ludwig] is such a fan of Errol Flynn and of the Errol Flynn movie that it’s also a love letter to that movie, to the swashbuckler and to this particular tale," explained Jessica Stone, director of "Robin Hood!"
But while Ludwig finds inspiration in Errol Flynn, she said she looks more to Looney Toons for ideas. So tonally that places the play somewhere between the broad slapstick of "Men in Tights" and the swashbuckling panache of "The Adventures of Robin Hood."
For the play, Stone is working closely with fight choreographer Jacob Grigolia Rosenbaum. He grew up on Errol Flynn movies and relishes the chance to work on a play that pays homage to the actor but in a brand new play.
"So this is not only the Holy Grail, but it is also a chance to innovate on the Holy Grail of fight choreography," Grigolia Rosenbaum. "So we’ve been having a blast."
"The clanking of metal is really, really fun," Stone said. "And what I discovered is that actually the proximity to these swords, and to the clanging and banging — even if it’s not at the speed, which is unrealistic, that people are used to seeing in a movie — that because they are so close it actually is thrilling."
But she faced an added challenge of staging the play’s action because the Globe's White Theater is in the round.
"I was very worried about the swashbuckling not being fun up close and everyone in the audience seeing it warts and all," Stone said.
In a movie, you can call for retakes until the action comes out perfect. But not onstage.
"It is diametrically opposite in theater," Grigolia Rosenbaum said. "You need to keep that actor totally safe, you need to keep the audience that is potentially six inches away from the end of the sword fight safe, and they need to be able to repeat it over and over and over again flawlessly every single time."
And twice on Sundays.
"We're giving the audience more of a 360-degree view," said Daniel Reece who plays Robin. "It’s different in that we can’t lie, we have to sell every bit of it."
"We are paying close attention to making sure that everyone can enjoy this sort of ravishing fight without endangering anybody," Stone added. "I’ve threatened that if any audience members put their feet on the deck, we are going to behead them."
That is because the actors use every inch of space in the theater, fighting in aisles and even dropping from the rafters. Such elaborate action took a lot of preparation.
"Oh, it’s a lot," Reece emphasized. "We are working almost daily with sword work, which is the bulk of what we are doing. In addition, there are quarter staffs and bows and arrows, there's things that we are turning into weapons that we didn't even know we'd be using."
Grigolia Rosenbaum had a lot of latitude in creating the fights because frequently the script merely said, “And they fight.” To create the fights for this "Robin Hood!" he took his cue from the Errol Flynn movie in which broad swords were treated like lightweight rapiers to create more agile swordplay. And that proved well suited to a theater in the round.
"The one thing of putting a fight in the round does, which is good for a fight choreography, is that sword fighting specifically, not throwing a punch, but sword fighting involves and the audience hopes to see are swings that don’t hit," Grigolia Rosenbaum explained. "It’s sword on sword action that you can do in the round. So this angle opens up a lot of viewing lines to the audience."
And the action flows very much like a choreographed dance, which is one reason why Stone treated the play like a musical.
"In a musical, you speak until you have to sing and then you sing until you have to dance, and so we’re treating this in much the same way. The stakes of a fight are earned," Stone said.
And the audience gets to enjoy the exuberant thrill of onstage action that is as agile and fun as Ken Ludwig’s script.
Ken Ludwig’s "Robin Hood!" runs through Sept. 3 at The Old Globe's White Theatre.
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