The king has abandoned his kingdom, the knights have taken over, and tyranny rules the land. Robin returns after a two-year absence, and quickly falls back in with his friends: Marion and Wil. When Robin fails to save the life of a young boy, he and his band, joined by Little John, move into the woods and steal from the rich to give to the poor. This is Robin Hood like you know it, and yet nothing like it.
With carpeted lounge, two walls with forest photographic wallpaper, some doors, chairs, and logs, in Fugitive Jonathon Oxlade has created a delightfully simple set: the changes in locations (along with many props) exist only in our imaginations, yet we are never left with any doubt as to where they are. Exceptional lighting by Richard Vabre, and composition and sound design by Luke Smiles help to compete the puzzle, and are both as integral to the narrative as the dialogue. It is a true testament to this production and team that these three arms of design never seem like distinct entities: they are constantly working in such an incredible balance it seems as though they were created by the one mind. Coming together with these elements, the story and production doesn’t need to spell things out, because through this creativity a world much bigger than could ever be realised on stage is created.
For its wonderful design, and brilliant energy from the cast – in a chase scene, in a fight, in a dance sequence – Fugitive captures a wonderfully creative and visual world. It is this simple yet vivid visual language that director Rosemary Myers employs in her productions which make them so fantastical. The problem with it being so visual (which is really not a problem at all) is how then to explain it in words? How to really capture the essence of Eamon Farren, Matthew Whittet, Patrick Graham and Louisa Mignone running on the spot to escape from the kilt-wearing stormtroopers, of miming their weapons, of hoping on to an invisible motorbike? Of Geoff Revel dancing, complete with a 70s porno mustache? Of Whittet singing O Fortuna preparing for battle while the rest of the cast stare at him: clearly the scene has moved on. Of invisible ninjas? Okay, so maybe you can picture the invisible ninjas. Cast of hundreds, so I’m told. But rather hard to count.
I think you can tell from the mention of invisible ninjas what kind of script Whittet has penned. That’s right: absurdly wonderful. And still, right through from the hilarity and creativity of magic backpacks to fart jokes (why I don’t get fart jokes and yet find “Trair Fuck” hilarious, I do not know), Whittet maintains both a heart and a seriousness to the text. Windmill has created this play for older audiences, the older end of the “youth” spectrum that is often looked over in the creation of theatre, and serious issues are dealt with, from relationships right through to the questionable morality of Robin, which degrades the further he falls into steeling from the rich and giving to the poor. It’s as much the tale we know of Robin Hood as it is the tale we know of growing up, complete with the absence of all the answers, and without the happy ending, which sometimes, at this point in our lives, feels like isn’t a real thing at all.
What is perhaps most incredible about the way Whittet deals with the distinction between the humour and the profound, is that often there is no distinction. A conversation between characters can be both heavy and funny (even if the humour does derive from Graham choking on whipped cream), or to the left of the stage may be a tableau which is heart breaking but a shift of the head to the right will put you in stitches. This second example leads to a sometimes confusing experience while watching the play, can I really laugh when this is happening?, but it never feels uncomfortable or forced. Rather, it shows us the wonderful nuance and skill Whittet writes with.
Both visually and through the script, Fugitive is heavily influenced by manga and graphic novels; a current obsession of mine is Scott Pilgrim, with the sixth book coming out a few weeks ago and the film released next week, and I spent a good deal of time watching this thinking this is how Scott Pilgrim could be done on stage. This, mixed with pop-culture (music from Feist and The Arctic Monkeys [I may be putting together my own cd…]) and modern (no-one wears a watch anymore, you check the time on your phone) references brings this Robin Hood squarely into the 21st century.
An unusual strength in Robin Hood is how often and in how many forms it is “retold” – brilliantly – yet it still retains this story that everyone knows. My personal love of Robin Hood comes from the early ‘90s tv series Maid Marion and her Merry Men. Robin was a naïve idiot, and Marion was the brain behind the operation, leader of the band, and to me she was just one of the most amazing women. I wouldn’t say now, at 21, I’m precious about that show. If youtube can teach you anything, it is that nothing lives up to what it looked like when you were six. But Marion still holds a special place in my heart, so I was glad to see that Fugitive maintains the kick-arse Marion, wonderfully performed by Louisa Mignone with strength and heart. This Marion is paired against a much stronger (and, yes, sexier) Robin, and she isn’t perfect, but she was pretty damn great. And she wore a yellow cape and a denim jumpsuit. That says enough, doesn’t it?
As Robin, Eamon Farren has become the poster boy for Fugitive, and his Robin exudes the sexy bad-boy confidence you would expect from the man in the posters. Certainly not the best type of friend, Robin toys with the hearts of the other characters and the audience as no matter how immoral he acts, you still want to believe that he is truly a good guy. Farren plays this line with ease; he is an actor to watch out for. Also, he took a photo with me. Robin’s going to put it up on facebook. Front row centre baby, best seat in the house. And to think I just chose it for the view.
Writer Whittet also acts, and his Wil is just such an adorable, kind, geeky kid, who carries the emotional heart of the story. And, although I feel suspiciously inclined to believe the whole play was just a ruse for Whittet to show off his butt-clenching skills, they are some pretty impressive skills.
Rounding out the wonderfully assembled cast are Danielle Catanzariti, Patrick Graham, Carmel Johnson and Geoff Revell. This is a cast which fits so well together: playing off each others’ characters, both in the happy and the tense moments, and then as a group move into these extended, perfectly timed, perfectly measured, choreographed sequences. The production is very reliant on Smiles’ soundscape, and it is imperative that the fight and chase scene choreography are perfectly timed to this, and the cast hits it, every time.
A word that is often thrown around Windmill shows is “polished.” This is the premier season of a brand new play, and yet, exactly, it is so polished. That is absolute indication of the sheer amounts of energy and effort which go into the development and production of work by the company. For something I saw in its second week, ever, anywhere, Fugitive is a remarkable achievement. This is the amount of polish that you would demand from a show which had been tested in many productions and presentations, and yet Windmill (this time with the help of inSPACE at the Adelaide Festival Centre) hits it out of the park on the first go. We are so lucky to have them.
Fugitive plays in the Space Theatre until Saturday Aug 14. GO. Get yourself a ticket. NOW.
On a final note: huge congratulations to Windmill on their six Helpmann nominations for The Wizard of Oz. I have huge issues with the awards, and with trying to create a national awards system for performing arts in Australia (if you have half an hour, go and look where the members of the nominating panels are from…), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it when companies and shows I love are recognised and rewarded through them. I took one of my very close friends to see The Wizard of Oz for her 21st birthday present. It was the first stage production she had ever seen (how I don’t know), and so I felt a huge pressure and responsibility to choose a show that would be a brilliant introduction to this world that I love. And it turned out I choose well: it was amazing, she loved it, and she still brings it up in conversation. The nominations are well deserved.