In conversation with: the cast of the Northcott’s Robin Hood
Ella Minty, Print Arts + Lit Editor, interviews Samara Rawlins and Matthew Heywood, cast members from the Northcott’s production of Robin Hood which runs from 9 December to 2 January.
Ella Minty: Tell us a bit about the show. Do you think all ages will enjoy the show? Why should people come and see it?
Samara Rawlins: Our pantomime follows the tale of Robin Hood and how the outlaw, with the help of lady Marion and his merry men, stand against the sheriff of Nottingham, who is trying to steal the crown. It’s a show for all ages; our Pantomime is aimed to be fun for all the family, and there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So, people should come ready to be immersed in to the world of all things panto.
Matthew Heywood: This Robin Hood is not your usual Robin Hood story. As is the case with pantos it’s been given a shake up, a few new characters have been added and it is filled with lots and lots of jokes. We’ve been having an absolute joy rehearsing it. It is definitely for everyone and we can’t wait to make you smile, laugh, shout and scream.
EM: How is Robin Hood different from other pantomimes that you have performed in?
SR: I worked on Aladdin in last year’s panto season. Robin Hood isn’t too dissimilar to that, as it has everything you’d expect for a panto; lots of comedy and loveable characters for all the family to enjoy.
MH: Last year I was playing Peter Pan in a wonderful 5 actor version adapted by Sarah Punshon. It was a very modern adaption, performed in the round. Robin Hood at the Northcott is more of the traditional pantomime with the heroes, the villains, the dame and a rollercoaster adventure to go on. Our production has lots more audience interaction than a lot of the shows I’ve done before. The rehearsals have also been incredibly funny; everyone has brought lots of fantastic and funny ideas into the room.
EM: Tell us a bit about your character. Do you think you’re alike in any way?
SR: I play lady Marion. She is kidnapped by the sheriff of Nottingham in the show; Marion is quite a strong willed, independent woman. With plenty of sass and quick-witted remarks. I feel I am similar to my character as I hold the same strong-willed independent characteristics and nature that Marion possesses.
MH: I’d say Robin is headstrong, and goes with what his heart is telling him to do. It makes him brave but also silly sometimes. He’s adventurous, something I can definitely relate to, as well as his love of roaming the forest, climbing trees. Although he’s far more agile at jumping through the trees than I will ever be.
EM: How do you think the story of Robin Hood fits into modern theatre?
SR: Our production fits modern theatre because we are working with one of the country’s leading contemporary physical clowning theatre companies; Le Navet Bête. Their style of theatre is comedic and vastly influenced by street theatre. Street theatre requires a large amount of physical interaction with audiences. These styles are similar to panto, as panto requires breaking the fourth wall and also having audience interaction through audience participations throughout the show. So, our production blends the Le Navet Bete’s theatre style along with traditional pantomime to make a modern theatrical twist to panto.
MH: Originally Robin Hood is a figure who stood up for what is right not best for themselves, who thought about the people, who acted when people were scared and beaten down. There’s a lot of injustice still in our modern society so those messages will resonate with audiences for a long time to come.
EM: How is this production bringing something new to the story?
SR: This production is mostly similar to the original tale. However, it’s a little different to the original, especially as Merlin the magician has found his way into our production of Robin Hood.
MH: At the start of the story, Robin is not the hero we know and love. In fact he is not a hero at all, simply a boy from the forest who loves to sing, play guitar and make people happy. It takes the collective strength of Marion, Merlin and Bluebell (Robin’s sister) to come out of the adventure victorious. And yes I said Merlin…
EM: Without giving anything away, what’s your favourite line of dialogue?
SR: “Are you a deep fat fryer?”
MH: “I’ll have you know I trained for three years” “Where at? The University of Plymouth?”
EM: If you could play any other character in the play, who would it be?
SR: I would love to play Morgana! Who doesn’t love a panto Villain?! I think it would be an incredibly fun challenge for me and completely different to playing a female lead and love interest which I am so used to playing.
MH: My answer would be the same! It has to be Morgana, played wonderfully by Jodie Micciche. Going from the good side to the evil would be a lot of fun, she has some of the best lines in the show whilst having the very unique interactions with the audience only villains can have.
EM: How did you get into acting? Do you think this play will inspire children in the audience to follow in your footsteps?
SR: I got in to acting through my school education. My first experiences of theatre were going to see touring productions at local theatres in my hometown, Birmingham. Panto is normally the first introduction children get within theatre, as it was for me. So yes, children would be inspired to follow in my footsteps. I also feel as person of colour, I didn’t see many performers that looked like myself when I was growing up. Representation is a massive drive and inspiration of mine to be a performer, so that other children from global majority backgrounds can see themselves represented within theatre and see a viable career within it too.
MH: For me, going to watch Pantomimes was my first experience of live theatre; I loved it so much I was constantly on the edge of my seat (or hiding behind it because I was terrified of the giant that wanted to eat me during Jack and the Beanstalk)! I think we’re going to give those who are watching a show for the first time the same excitement to make them come back to the theatre again and again.
EM: What advice would you give to people trying to get into acting?
SR: The most useful advice I must give is to be resilient. You get a lot of rejection as an actor, and it can be hard getting no after no. However, it useful to look at a ‘no’ as just ‘not now’ or ‘next opportunity’ which just gets you one step closer to getting a ‘yes’ and booking your next job.
MH: My main advice is to always ask questions. You can’t learn if you think you know everything; be open to change and development. Spend time learning what everyone else does in the theatre/film crew to make the shows happen – Front of House, Lighting, Sound, Stage Management. Having respect for those people, and knowing how they enhance everything I do on stage is super important. And who knows? You might find you love that even more than acting!
EM: As we are the Arts and Lit section of the newspaper, do you have a favourite book, piece of art or favourite play you can tell us about?
SR: One of my favorite books is the Colour Purple by Alice Walker. I saw the musical on Broadway back in 2016 and found the show very inspirational I had to read the book. I love theatre pieces and writing that explores black lives and experiences that give a platform for black stories and culture to be seen and heard. I love to support art and theatre form black artists because of my heritage as a black performer myself.
MH: I’ve literally just finished reading The Book Thief and cannot stress how beautiful that book is. It’s totally honest and speaks with a true voice, that I’ve not heard in a long time. It’s direct, doesn’t let you off the hook to make you deeply think and feel what is being said. A quote I love is “I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.”