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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our very own Robin Hood


On Thursday and all through the weekend, the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society returned to the National Theatre with yet another end of year pantomime after last year’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Written and directed by Tom Adlam and produced by Flora Aduk, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest draws from the 12th Century English story of Robin Hood, who shuns his wealthy family and leads a band of outlaws into a forest from where he becomes a hero by robbing the rich to give to the poor.

It opens with King Richard (Tom Adlam) departing for war and entrusting his Kingdom of Uganda to his young brother, Prince John (Alistair Taylor).

Under the wicked influence of the Sheriff of Kampalaham (Dick Stockley; known to his friends as Big King Dickie), John and his clique impose unkind taxes on the poor who, to make things worse, are already finding hunger and poverty unbearable.

Meanwhile, the rich go about singing “money oh my honey” and the deprived have nothing but to grumble at the unfairness of it all; paying taxes yet the roads still have “cracks,” and of the rich having so much but not sparing a few shillings for the poor.

The redeemer comes in the name of Robin Hood, who, flanked by his band of “Merry Women” (in medieval England they were called “Merry Men”), including a nun – Sister Tuck (Sharren Glencross) who waylay the rich barons, rob them and take to the poor people of Kampalaham.

“Robin is a special hero for children, whose innate sense of fairplay and morality immediately recognise the intrinsic justice of his direct approach to the redistribution of wealth,” reads a note from the director.

As the plot develops, a plan is pitched by Robin’s foes to nab him at an archery contest and throw him in “the deepest, darkest, dankest dungeon,” but will they catch the hero of Robin Hood’s calibre?

That Mabira Forest is the home of Robin Hood could be viewed by critics as satirical to the present establishment that earlier this year sought to cut down the forest to plant sugarcanes but met stiff resistance from the masses.

The musical comedy is further given the Ugandan flavour with some of the characters adopting the names of local celebrities. There is for example Bobi Wine (Lucas Haitsma), a little boy of about eight years who goes the extra mile to wear a T-shirt with “Ghetto President” emblazoned on the front, an oversized cap and the accompanying bling-bling.

Just like his little friend Bebe Cool (Alex Sherwen), they get distracted during the show but are adorable all the same especially when ‘Bobi’ pulls some awkwardly slow but hilarious break-dance strokes on the stage.

Staying true to British tradition, the hero (the “principal boy”) – Robin Hood is played by a young woman (Hope Laila) and another major role – that of a large, older woman (the “dame”) known as Widow “Booty” Winterbottom is excellently portrayed by David Griffiths.

And like all traditional pantomimes, there’s lots of audience participation through music and rhetorical questions for comic effect. But slapstick is stretched (much to the laughter of the audience) when a gentleman is wooed from the audience to the stage only to have his face smacked with pie.

The romance between the “so dashing, so brave” Robin Hood and the feisty Maid Marion (Barbara Kasekende) is funny but nothing beats the expert portrayal of the huge crush the “horrible, hideously ugly (especially with that wig) Widow Winterbottom” has over the principal baddie, the Sheriff of Kampalaham.

Although the director called it a fun thing for children, Robin Hood of Mabira Forest also appeals to adults because it tackles salient issues in contemporary Uganda; the wide gap between the rich and the poor, the misuse of public funds and poverty. In fact, one is bound to ask, when is Robin Hood coming to rescue Ugandans from the political shackles that hold us down?

The production will be staged again today and tomorrow, 7:30p.m. and 3p.m. respectively and tickets are available at the National Theatre Box Office for Shs12,000.

--Saturday Monitor, December 13, 2008