Thursday, March 12, 2015

Child's Play - Treasure Island, Pinocchio, The Heart of Robin Hood - Play Reviews

Treasure Island - National Theatre in the Olivier Theatre - London, UK - ** (out of 5 stars)
By Robert Louis Stevenson, Adapted by Bryony Lavery, Directed by Polly Findlay
Runs until Apr. 8th 2015

Pinocchio - Tout à Trac at Young People's Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written and Directed by Hugo Bélanger based on the story by Carlo Collodi, English translation by Bobby Theodore
Runs until Mar. 21st 2015

The Heart of Robin Hood - Royal Alexandra Theatre - Toronto, ON - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Farr, Directed by Gísli Örn Gardarsson
Runs until Mar. 29th 2015

With amazing sets and lighting that creates the perfect atmosphere for classic stories transported to the stage, in a large and epic sized production for Treasure Island at the Olivier Theatre, and in small compact, but still gloriously clever and epically magical set for the touring Pinocchio, these two productions certainly set up a wonderfully illusive fantasy world. Meanwhile, we're deep in the heart of Sherwood forest on the simple yet epically fun looking set for The Heart of Robin Hood where a giant grass hill takes centre stage but transforms into a castle, but used essentially as a big slide and jungle gym for Marian, Robin Hood and his merry men to bounce around on.

Meanwhile, translating these classic stories, seems less successful at times. However much like some other classics I have revisited recently, some of these stories have become so infamous in themselves that rediscovering the actual details of the stories reveals seems to lead into some disappointment or curious confusion. We tend to remember a collection of "best" parts and forget the story developmental moments that moves the story along. The shows have great sets but need a better story set up.


The new revised Treasure Island, that gives the adventurous story a female slant but there is a lot of exposition and despite the magnificent sets of ships, islands, caves and more, the show feels like it plods along and is less an adventurous journey than a slow search for some excitement. Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who) has fun with the role of Long John Silver and keeps things alive as our nefarious villain but he can only save the moments he's on stage and there's a lot of plot to get to before he even appears. The show turns Jim into a girl (still referred to as Jim) who leads the story but in Bryony Lavery's script, the girl narrates a huge amount of the story which is incredibly dull to watch. At least the amazing sets by Lizzie Clachan are a treasure for the eyes. Sadly, the rest of the play seems to sink by it's expository weight, with little adventure, excitement or humour to be found.


The small but ingenious set for Pinocchio holds an abundance of surprises, and when a wooden log turns into Pinocchio under our eyes, it's quite a feat of theatre prop magic. While the story starts off strong in its set up, with the kids in attendance giggling with joy and silly physical comedic mishaps, things slow down more when the actual adventure begins and Pinocchio encounters different characters along the way as he tries to avoid school. While the magic of Patrice Charbonneau-Brunelle's sets and costumes never ceases to amaze, and Joannie d'Amours props and Marie-Pierre Simard's Pinnochio design are fun and beautifully done, the pacing feels like it could be sped up in the middle for a tighter show.


The Heart of Robin Hood refers actually to Maid Marion, so we find ourselves in a Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood is a criminal who steals only for himself and his not-so-merry men, while Marion is off to seek adventure away from the kingdom in search of the false legend of the good Robin Hood she thought who stole for the poor. It's a nice flip of the classic story, and sets up for Marion to become the adventurous and action packed hero while slowly turning Robin Hood towards good, while fighting off the true villain in Prince John, but unfortunately, the whole set up is muddled and cluttered and it takes a while before everything is clearly set in place. It's not until act 2 when the story is clearly defined that we can truly enjoy and revel in the joys of the show, which has a lot of fun on Börkur Jónsson's immense green hill set that lets Marian, Robin Hood and the rest of the cast slide down the height of the stage.

With wonderful songs by the American band Parsonfield, who sing on stage in interludes that makes the play with songs practically into a musical, they intermix with the cast that only confuses the story but enlighten the joyous mood. If the darker tones and scenes were cut or toned down, while the comedic camp amped up, the show would make for a delightful piece for the family. By the end, the show seemed to justify the intermix of songs within the non-musical play, but some clarity on the villains (with Prince John and the henchmen and sometimes Robin Hood and his merry men getting things confusing) and some clarity of the plot (there seems to be some unnecessary threads that go on too long) would make this very acrobatic play the entertaining show it potentially could be.

Izzie Steele is a delight as Marion, and Christian Lloyd brings the right amount of camp to servant Pierre. There are some acrobatic merry men/henchmen and there are some truly magical stage moments from the creative team using the fun looking set as a playground.

Photo of Pinocchio by Jérémie Battaglia
Photo of The Heart of Robin Hood by Joan Marcus
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