Robin Hood *****

Summer in Guildford has officially started (in my diary at least) with the start of the Guildford Shakespeare Companies Open-Air Season.

The first of their two productions is Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend in period costume and modern language, for all the family.

I attended the Saturday matinee performance at the lovely, wild sanctuary in Racks Close, located of Quarry Street.  This is actually part of the original quarry from which the Guildford Castle stone was mined, now long neglected but revived for the second time by the GSC.

Robin Hood is the latest in a series of family friendly non-Shakespeare productions.  Previous hits have included, Alice in Wonderland and The Legend of King Arthur.  This was visibly succeeding as the audience with me had a very high proportion of children. This created a fun atmosphere throughout the play.

The action opens with a minstrel interacting with the audience as he sang a ballad about our hero. Then he is interrupted by the arrival of the Sheriff with all the evil intent of the best pantomime villains.

Hissing and booing as appropriate, the audience was captivated by the evil threats and the challenging insults from our wandering minstrel.

And so the play continues in high quality pantomime mode, with specially written songs enlivening the cast and audience alike.

I will not name any of the cast in particular because this was full of very good actors, both young and old, all of whom deserve credit.  (See linked # on blog page for list).

I recommend purchasing the programme, which covers both plays in the season, and putting it away safely for future reference.  I believe many new stars are making their earliest performances in this play and it may become a collector’s item.

As so often, I award the full 5 out of five stars to this GSC production.

Looking forward to the next play, Love’s Labour’s Lost, at the Collage of Law, St Catherine’s, next month.

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The Death of Stalin ****

The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider.  You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is MV5BMTcxMDc1NjcyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU0NDYxMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_famous.

A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy.   These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.

The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.

On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him.  This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents.  Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia.  It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.

In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.

This is a well made political satire.  Four out of five stars awarded.