On a stormy night in Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood and his merry men ambush a carriage. They spare the passengers and welcome the driver, Little John, into their fraternity. One strict rule: no women allowed.
At the palace in York, Marion receives a letter from her father, the Duke. He’s away on a Crusade with King Richard, who’s left his brother, John, in charge. When Marion’s servant, Pierre, mentions Robin Hood’s latest hold-up, Marion decides to elude John’s grasp by joining the outlaw’s band.
Marion finds Robin and his men literally shaking down a friar for money. When she asks to join the outlaws and won’t take no for an answer, Robin beheads the friar and she leaves, aghast. He’s not the noble outlaw she thought.
Back at the palace, Prince John has two aims: doubling taxes, ostensibly to fund the Crusades, and wedding Marion. She and Pierre again escape to the woods, with Marion dressed in his clothes and calling herself Martin. That gives her another idea.
In Castleton, John’s enforcer, Guy of Gisborne, threatens two peasant children, Sarah and Jethro, over their father’s unpaid taxes. In Sherwood Forest, the merry men find carriages already robbed by a mysterious new rival, Martin of Sherwood, and his sidekick, Big Peter.
Robin and his men ambush Martin/Marion and Peter/Pierre. But a peasant approaches seeking Martin’s aid against Gisborne; Martin’s reputation for helping the poor has spread. Even Robin’s men are moved to action when they hear that children are to be hanged. They rescue Sarah and Jethro from John, who has frightened the children with their father’s corpse.
Meanwhile, Marion’s father writes a letter to say he’s heard of Prince John’s plot to usurp his brother, King Richard, and plans to return to England to intervene.
In the forest, Robin and Martin/Marion discuss women, and Robin confesses he likes one he’s seen—the undisguised Marion.
The Duke’s counselor, Makepeace, challenges John: Are the taxes for the Crusades, or to fund a coup against King Richard? John admits the latter—and has Gisborne cut out Makepeace’s tongue.
John then orders Gisborne to use pigs’ blood to make icons in local shrines appear to bleed. Townspeople suspect the devil’s work and blame Jethro and Sarah. As a mob closes in on Sherwood Forest, Marion goes to accept John’s marriage proposal in return for sparing the children. John agrees, then secretly orders Gisborne to kill them. Gisborne finds them with Pierre, who awkwardly defends them. They escape.
Robin fights Gisborne to the death, then uses Gisborne’s head to impersonate him and enter the castle, bringing his merry men along as “prisoners.” The ruse is discovered and John seizes them, but Pierre, disguised as a lord, frees them.
Robin and his men disrupt the wedding and defeat John’s soldiers. The Duke of York arrives to arrest John and all is made plain, including Marion/Martin’s single identity. Robin and Marion are wed in Sherwood Forest.
e-Luminations: The Heart of Robin Hood
This edited version is reprinted from OSF’s 2013 Illuminations, a 64-page guide to the season’s plays. For more information, or to buy the full Illuminations, click here. Members at the Patron level and above and teachers who bring a school groups to OSF receive a free copy of Illuminations.
OK for Kids
In 2011, the Royal Shakespeare Company unveiled David Farr’s The Heart of Robin Hood as its family-friendly holiday offering—complete with two beheadings, one de-tonguing, a hanging and the usual arrow-related deaths. Merry Christmas! “The age advisory is eight-plus,” Farr says, adding, “Maybe highly educated seven-year-olds.” But these killings and maimings aren’t intended to be graphic, Grand Guignol moments. “Fairy tales are incredibly brutal, but it’s all about how you do it. There are many ways you can imply violence.”
More significant to young audiences than jolts or scares, Farr feels, is a larger sense that things will be all right.
“Children have an incredibly instinctive feel for whether a story has an arc that is going to come around in a satisfying way.”
A pair of young waifs, Sarah and Jethro, might help. Director Joel Sass says, “To have two young characters who’ve got some real stake in the proceedings lets children identify themselves in this big epic story. They’re not simply there as luggage to be toted around by the adults.”