Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Suzann McLean: Robin Hood – The Arrow Of Destiny

By | Published on Sunday 2 December 2018

Theatre Peckham’s imminent offering of festive fare is on a familiar theme – Robin Hood – but I reckon we can expect a great take on the much loved legend, accompanied by some great music.

It’s the first production since Suzann McLean took over as artistic director of the venue, and I was keen to know about the show, and her plans for the future. So I arranged a quick chat.

CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect in the way of narrative…? We know it’s about Robin Hood, of course, but what story does this version of his legend tell?
SM: There is a line in the play that says “What does it take to be a hero?” and this for me is the message of our version of Robin Hood. The villagers of Nottingham are abandoned and need a hero. Convinced that Robin Hood is their only hope in defeating the Sheriff, Marian journeys into the depths of Sherwood Forest in search of their saviour. She is a courageous and a skilled hunter who could be a real leader were she not trapped by the tradition of being a damsel in distress. When she finds Robin Hood he is honest, lovable and wears his heart on his sleeve. So our story is about the challenges of living up to other people’s expectations, the stereotypes that surround what it means to be male or female and ultimately it questions the qualities that we as a society think are needed to be an effective leader.

CM: What is the music for the show like? What genre would you say it falls into?
SM: The music sets this production alive. There is rap, soca, reggae beats, R&B and salsa. Basically everything that I would have on my playlist!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the creatives behind it?
SM: ‘Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny’ is written by award-winning playwright Richard Hurford. I first worked with Richard 8 years ago and we always spent hours talking about the joys of creating new work with people of all ages and skills levels and bringing a diverse a range of people together through theatre. Richard is skilled in turning classic stories into current fantasies.

Rob Castell wrote the music and lyrics. He works as an actor, songwriter and musician. He has been the musical director, co-writer, arranger, performer and co-producer for Barbershopera Productions Ltd since 2007 and has two radio play adaptations commissioned by BBC Radio 4. He composed and performed original songs for all episodes of CBBC show ‘Officially Amazing’.

Lily Faith Knight is the designer. Mission Statement: A design with a conscience. “As a designer we see so much waste in the industry, huge sets made of wood and plastics and then discarded. For Robin Hood it was incredibly important to do something different and show the young people I was working with that you can create magic from simple recycled materials and with a bit of careful thought almost everything can be given a second, or third or fourth life. The set consists of recycled cardboard, fabric from the Work and Play Scrapstore, and other bits and bobs that I’ve kept hold of squirrelled away in my studio from other productions. Even down to the screws! The costumes are all charity shop bought adapted with recycled materials or items from previous show that have been cut up and stitched together to create something new. And hopefully all of this can be saved again for yet another life.”

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast, and how it was assembled? Who will we see in the main roles?
SM: Malachi Green, former alumni of Theatre Peckham’s youth theatre, takes the lead as Robin Hood. He is joined by Ayanna Christie-Brown as a modern-day Maid Marian and Gustavo Navarro as Guy of Gisbourne. Together these three make up my apprentice actor team – emerging artists making their professional debut stage performance. Malachi and Gustavo follow in the footsteps of Theatre Peckham Patron and former pupil John Boyega, who trained at this world class home for creative learning and performance and recently found global fame for his role in ‘Star Wars’.

Professional actors Geoff Aymer (brilliantly playing the fun-loving Friar Tuck), Terriann Oudjar (playing Little John with the best one-liners in town) and Ray Newe (playing a perfectly evil Sheriff of Nottingham) complete the cast.

CM: I think there’s also some involvement for younger people, those who attend classes at Theatre Peckham…? What will they be doing?
SM: Joining the six strong cast on stage will be 40 children who form part of the theatre’s renowned arts education and training programme. They do all of the work! Playing villagers, Merry Men and puppeteering the ever-wise Oak King and devious Carnival-Style snake The Wyrmwood.

CM: You’ve only recently taken over as artistic director. How is preparation for this first production going?
SM: I am so thankful to be able to do what I love doing… being in a creative space and working collaboratively. The script is so funny that we are literally laughing during every rehearsal. Theatre Peckham has been enormously successful in producing Christmas productions that have young people at their core. As my first production as the new artistic director, I am honoured to continue this legacy with this production.

CM: What was the career path that brought you here? Is this the kind of thing you envisaged doing?
SM: I trained as an actress at Italia Conti Academy on their 3 year acting course and when I was there I remember the head of acting saying to me that when I am ready to become a director that she will give me a job. I have had some lovely successes as an actress across stage, TV and film. In 2017 I won the British Arrows Gold Award for Best Performance for the ‘dancing lady’ BUPA commercial and earlier in 2012 I ran in the Olympic Torchbearer ceremony in recognition of my creative work with my company Young and Talented. Most recently I was an Associate Artist at York Theatre Royal, associate of Pilot Theatre and associate of the young people’s work at Theatre Royal Stratford East. I realised a few years ago that my creative vision needed a home, Theatre Peckham is the perfect fit for me to grow as an artist and have an impact on the community that it serves.

CM: What aims and hopes do you have for Theatre Peckham the future?
SM: Together with my fantastic team I aim for Theatre Peckham to become a flagship for the local community, a pioneering social arts hub, and an exciting platform for young creatives. Theatre Peckham will provide an accessible introduction to the performing arts, guided progression routes to higher education and employment and an outstanding artistic programme that excites young people to participate learn and achieve. The richly diverse communities of Peckham are reflected within the cast of Robin Hood, from our young company through to our professional actors. Stellar professionals work side by side with children. Already Theatre Peckham is proving to be the life-force of its community, long may it reign.

CM: What’s coming up next? What’s the plan for the new year?
SM: It starts early with a 30th year anniversary event on 5 Jan to mark the launch of legendary TV sitcom Desmond’s. Creator and writer Trix Worrell set this show in Peckham so it’s a perfect way for Theatre Peckham to champion legacy, excellence and ambition bringing original cast members together with our aspiring young creatives.

Following that on 29 Jan we welcome Audio ID with Ashley Walters sharing his playlist biography, further on there will be a festival season of work from emerging artists, and we are supporting the development of ‘Othello Black’, a ballet adaptation by associate company Ballet Soul, plus a theatrical response piece to Pilot Theatre’s adaptation of ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman, performed by our Perform Acting Company. There’s a lot happening in Peckham!


 

‘Robin Hood: The Arrow of Destiny’ is on at Theatre Peckham from 4-22 Dec, see this page here to book your tickets.

LINKS: www.theatrepeckham.co.uk | twitter.com/TheatrePeckham | twitter.com/suzann_mclean



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