‘Robin Hood’ to tackle economic injustice

by Annie Smith | 9/24/14 5:08pm

Two actors, 25 cardboard boxes and an audience bursting with imagination: these are the ingredients for a new spin on the classic tale of “The Adventures Robin Hood,” featuring the beloved outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.

Scottish company Visible Fictions comes to the Hopkins Center Sunday afternoon and Monday morning to perform its new show, co-commissioned with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where it made its North American premiere in March.

Douglas Irvine, Visible Fictions artistic director as well as director and co-designer of “Robin Hood,” said he was interested in producing the show because it grapples with economic inequality. He recalled the story of a friend who, after moving to the United Kingdom from Eastern Europe, would stand in a supermarket and stare at all the different kinds of cookies on display.

This story and others like it prompted Irvine to think critically about economic injustice and how he could engage theatergoers to do so as well.

“Our stores are just filled with an abundance of food, yet in the world there are still the ‘have-nots,” Irvine said.

The Visible Fictions story is set in a supermarket storeroom, rendered onstage by cardboard boxes and shopping carts. The two actors in the program stack, throw and re-build the boxes into trees, a castle and other elements.

Audiences are asked to stay attentive and imaginative to understand the story amid rapid changes to characters and scenery, Irvine said.

Though whimsical — audiences can expect duels, food fights and chase scenes — themes of generosity and sympathy shine through, Irvine said.

“The ‘Robin Hood’ story that we tell is a really exciting adventure tale, but at the same time in there is a big heart, a huge heart, a heart of humanity and a heart of social justice.”

Irvine said he hopes audiences will view the imperfect hero, Robin Hood, as someone who is relatable or inspirational.

Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence described Visible Fictions as a theater company that develops innovative takes on well-known tales.

“The company is known for huge imagination and the ability to create stories while using very little,” Lawrence said. “Just the kind of playful, but brilliant, rich imagination that they have.”

The show is part of the Hop’s “School Matinee Series,” a collaborative program with nearby schools that aims to integrate classroom learning with the arts. This year’s series includes many shows based on literary source material, outreach coordinator Mary Gaetz said.

Providing educational programs for local students is a key tenant of the Hop’s mission, Gaetz said. The Hop also assembles study materials for student attendees as part of the series, and schools are offered discounted tickets.

“The schools that come are really great, the students are really bright and the teachers are looking for things that are outside the box,” Gaetz said. “We’re lucky that we have a lot of open-minded teachers that see the potential for the students.”