The Heart of Robin Hood

I was asked if I wanted to go to "a super-feminist play." I went in thinking it was a rendition of Robin Hood in which Marian is the real hero. It ends with Robin Hood (he's him, it turns out) taking this moral stand: "No. I cannot marry in a castle with servants waiting on me. I will only marry in the forest among the [foresty things]." The man who narrates the play--whose transgressions of the fourth wall can't be heard by those behind it--closes triumphantly with "this is how Robin Hood found his heart." Robin found his heart, the playwright found his head, and Marian? She found Robin? I'm not sure where the twist is. The fact that for the first act she wielded a sword? What an original formulation of power: holding the thing that sticks out.

About that. She dressed up as Martin of Sherwood, donning the classic green tunic and tights. Every joke revolved around how obvious her femininity was to us, the audience, while the diegesis remained oblivious. Isn't it funny that she's--haha, this is so fresh--trying to fight a man? Listen to her shriek, watch her feebly drop her sword.

And the villain, Prince John, is a rapey man in red and black who sniffs everyone. He says that women like him--"after a while." When this is what you're up against, it's hard to do wrong. For the whole second act, Marian is married to him, and flops around in his castle, her agency consigned to switching costumes, which begins to seem a whole lot more like (needle) work.

Someone I know said she hated men for a week after blazing through all of Top of the Lake in a day. None of the men in the show are entirely redeemable. Every one is implicated in rape. If the alternative is to have our Decent Man and transform him too, please, I'll take Top of the Lake. Marian says she "knew" from the beginning that he was an okay bloke. "Even though I was heartless?" he asks. "I saw the heart within," she says.

This is after he rescues her from the castle.

Then there's Marian's older sister, who exists to be the butt of endless jokes at the expense of her femme-ness. She comes on stage after Robin and Marian have their hippie wedding in the woods--the woods is the place that unknots all double binds, didn't you know?--and asks "what about me?" Her hair's tousled and frizzy, her makeup is a mess, her clothes are disarrayed. She's shrill and vain. But Marian doesn't hate her because she makes passes at every man, no--it's for siding with Prince John. This isn't slut-shaming. It's a critique of the worship of masculine power. Yes.

But ultimately it's not about Marian or Robin. It's about Pierre--Marian's friend, the one with the internal monologues--having a transformation. He goes from being flamboyant in the city ("do I look like I'm the forest type to you?!") to wise in the woods. Along the way, he discovers he has power--again, the pointy kind--which he uses to help save Marian (who at this point is more cathex than character, so he helps save the world). His epiphany comes like so: "What could I do with a blunderbuss?"

The only intriguing part of the play, I thought, was Little John. Is he deaf? Is he dumb? He uses sign language almost all of the time, and so the merry men sign back, badly. I doubted that the deaf in the audience could make out anything but the gist. Their speech was the supplement that made the inadequacy of their gestures a comedy. They ask Little John to swear an oath, before he may join their gang. What is an oath when it's not at all clear what each party understands? Personally, I imagined John laughing inside.

In fact the play is preoccupied with muteness. At one point Prince John cuts out the tongue of a court servant because "you try to please everyone with it."

But isn't it possible to have a golden inarticulacy, too? Marian is silenced for the second act--her transformation narrative transmuted into romance--because the playwright wanted to please everyone. Yet Brave derailed a princess marriage plot with followthrough, and it was a crowd-pleaser.

7 October 2013