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Creation - The Merchant of Venice

Robin Hood

30th June to 19th August 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Antidote to Shakespeare

Cast chosen for looks in Creation's irreverent, postmodern Merchant of Venice

Creation Theatre: The Merchant of Venice, at Oxford Castle, until August 19

If Radio 4's I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue had become a stage play it might resemble this Creation Theatre show.

The first task that director Gari Jones sets the cast is to perform a selection of Shakespeare's lines from The Merchant of Venice using the urban, street, speech patterns.

Round two is to recreate the casket scene as a game show called The Key To My Heart, complete with Millionaire music and smarmy disembodied voice.

Round three is to sample from a range of contemporary rock and hip hop tracks. Then develop character through the choice of the music, and enhance the subtext with lad and ladette patois.

Finally, apply the rules to Mornington Crescent to the plot of Shakespeare's morally problematic play so that the most loveable character gets to speak the most racist lines, behaving in the most repellent manner, and still get the audience to cheer him.

Creation's cultish production has a student Edinburgh Fringe Festival feel - it's irreverent, fun, postmodern and modish. There's a young cast chosen for its looks. Gavin Molloy's Antonio has the big Gothic hair of a Gorillaz cartoon and the black eyeshadows of Alex in Clockwork Orange; his angular good looks would not be out of place in Hollyoaks.

Kezia Burrows' Portia is sex on legs in white shorts and flimsy top; whoever wins the game show would not be taking her maidenhead. She arrives in one scene on a lipstick-pink scooter with the number plate 'Portia'.

The opportunities for sponsorship with BMW Mini are yet again realised when a hot Cooper S rolls onto the stage but what? - no Porsche!

Paul Shelford's Lorenzo is a kilt-wearing, big arm-tattooed blond dope, while Pepe Balderrama's cheeky Gratiano adds the Gee to the Ali.

Jessica Pring's fishnet-Goth Jessica is contrasted generationally with her tan suit-wearing fixer father Shylock, acted by Simon Poole without histrionics, passion, or feeling; a surprisingly blank portrait of man out for revenge.

All surface and no depth, crudity without poetry, this production is located in the stunning courtyard between Oxford Castle and prison, another imaginatively found space for Creation.


Robin Hood

20th July to 8th September 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Hitting the mark

Riotous robbery and merry men at Headington

Creation Theatre Company: Robin Hood, at Headington Hill Park, Oxford until September 8

Creation Theatre Company's third theatrical production of this glorious summer is Robin Hood, written by company regular Darren Ormandy and directed by Adam Meggido. On a warm night and with a massive tree dominating the stage in Headington Hill Park, actors with bows and arrows prowl silently around the park as the audience takes its seats. The woodland setting is perfect and arrows fly hither and thither during the performance, often finding unexpected targets.

A riotously funny note is immediately set as three contemporaries of Robin all compete to narrate the tale of "Robin Hood who stole from the rich and gave to the poor", trundling a cart on stage as in the old Mystery plays.

Most prominent is the preening, puckish Alan a Dale (Seamus Allen), a self-promoting actor, writer and lover. He coerces Friar Tuck (Angus Brown), a blunt, bald-headed, jovial, smirk-and-smock thug and Much, the Miller's surprisingly elderly son (Richard Evans), to act out scenes from Robin's life.

Armondy over-packs the play with interesting content to claim relevancy: racism (Saxons vs Normans), failed foreign policy (Richard The Lionheart's savagery in the Crusades) and democracy (King John and the Magna Carta) are all present. There's romance - Robin (a suitably handsome Tom Peters), and Marion (feisty Jennifer Matter), the supernatural, with sorceress Lady Gisburne (Eleanor Montgomery, intense), as well as Sherwood Forest's Green Man, and pantomime villainy "what a lovely day for an execution" with the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham (Scott Brooksbank).

There is plenty of audience involvement, and much tomfoolery, Keystone Cops-style, so it comes as a shock when Nottingham visibly slashes the throat of a hostage. The tone is usually much lighter as with Alan a Dale's Peter Quince-esque, hugely enjoyable play-within-a-play of Arthur and Percival.

Folk star Jon Boden (of Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden, and Eliza Carthy and the Ratcatchers) has written the soundtrack and his ballads such as Jack in the Green and Living in the Green Wood are a delight.

Great fun, although in need of a little pruning, this is a treat for summer evenings.