Claire Dukes talks with renowned children’s author, Laura Dockrill, and former Maccabees guitarist, Hugo White, about The Watermill’s contemporary tale of Robin Hood.
Back in October Theresa May declared that ‘austerity is over’ but I am inclined to disagree.
For me there is no wonder as to why the folk tale of Robin Hood continues to be explored and developed as a timeless story – for many people the ‘hard times’ are very much in the present, financially the UK is seemingly not strong and stable, and Christmas can be one hell of a tough time for many people.
So, if you ask me, Robin Hood – the people’s hero who gives back to those less fortunate – is the perfect production for Newbury’s Watermill Theatre to put on this Christmas, and Laura Dockrill and Hugo White seem to agree.
Laura and Hugo are currently residing at home in London, with the latest addition to their family, Jet, gurgling away in the background. We start talking all things Robin Hood – it is timeless, but through some of the more recent films I argue that it’s not always pulled off. I was relieved to hear that this rendition of Robin Hood has been revamped by the creative pair to produce a contemporary rendition which will resonate with audiences today.
As a children’s book author, and illustrator, Laura primarily focuses on female protagonists, so with a female lead, Georgia Bruce, cast as Robin Hood she was quickly drawn to the project.
“That’s what excited me about it and got my attention,” she says. “I do like to write female leads – girls who are brave and fierce. I was also really really excited about exploring the idea of Robin Hood and the Merry Men, or ‘Merry Many’ as we call them, and Robin’s relationship with Maid Marion – I left that quite blurred, so the relationship is quite abstract
“I think the exciting prospect of having a female lead is very important for theatre goers, – a lot of communities and schools are going to see this across the regions – because young kids might not be exposed to that. But even with Disney films like Moana and Frozen, kids are loving the fact that their heroes are women – and that’s how kids learn: through entertainment.”
For a grinch I’m suddenly feeling all warm and fuzzy. I’m conflicted greatly by this but ultimately state that I love the message of Robin Hood, especially at this time of year. Hugo agrees. “It’s the perfect time of year to celebrate sharing and giving,” he says. “The importance of sharing is explored through music – there is a character in Robin Hood who is really confused about sharing, and their journey is really celebrated through the music.”
In keeping with the motifs of Robin Hood, and adapting this to embody contemporary allegories, Laura and Hugo very much worked off each other’s creativity. Hugo explained: “I was reading the script and translating it as ideas for songs. Laura and I wrote all the demos at home which was a rough guide to what it would be – the demos were really fun. We played with the traditional folk element of Robin Hood, but then some of the songs became quite Bob Dylan-esque – the music balances a lot of themes. So, for example, with the Sheriff the music started quite folksy and then went into dark rock music, which then became really cheesy and gave it comical value.
“We were also writing for the actors who are musicians – all the music will be performed live. So, Robin Hood could be in the middle of scene and pick up an instrument and start playing. It’s really fluid. The director, Laura Keefe, made the music work with the cast. It’s brilliant the way they’ve translated it!”
There’s a great feeling of unity between the two of them, but as individuals they’ve seemingly had their own adventures on the same journey with the weirdest one being that Laura wasn’t overly familiar with the story of Robin Hood when she got involved with the play. But this seems to have enabled Laura to put her own stamp on the production to create her own adaptation. She tells me about a trip to Nottingham, “I went to a library in Nottingham for an event for kids, and the librarian had a lot of knowledge on Robin Hood and Nottingham. From that, the characters just built up over time. Hugo had to act out a lot of the script and read lines for me – I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of Robin Hood, but it was Hugo’s favourite as a child. I really enjoyed putting all the adaptations together!”
They told me that the whole process has been quite organic and fluid. At this point [November] they’re both extremely excited to see Robin Hood at The Watermill. Laura says, “We’re looking forward to bringing our friends – we’ve been talking about it so much now!
“The true magic of theatre is conjuring up stories – especially for children as it’s the act of make believe. Never have we lived in such a time where kids have so much expectation to outperform and grow up.
“It’s really important to us that the show is a real big laugh. If by chance the actors burst into laughter on stage that’s absolutely acceptable – it’s infectious! That’s the art of true theatre: it’s not perfect and it’s different every time. It also allows the actors to relax and evolve into something different each time.
“We loved the themes that underpin Robin Hood! We want it to have that Christmassy intimate atmosphere, so it really feels like a fairy tale and family show.”
Robin Hood will run at The Watermill, Newbury, from December 1 to January 5.