Dear Globe Theatre,
John Plantagenet here. Between turning 795 years old and dealing with a peanut allergy, I don’t get out much. But I was so intrigued by the premise of your production of Robin Hood that I simply had to buy a ticket and check it out (and may I say that ticket prices have gone up since the 13th century? Gone are the days when a single silver penny would have secured admission to the play and a night with the cast).
After all, it turns out that I’m a character in your play. How would your theatre dramatize the story of Prince John, the man who captured the outlaw Robin Hood and dragged him back to Nottingham Castle for the guards to play tetherball with his corpse? What stout and barrel-chested titan would portray me? I downloaded a few episodes of Game of Thrones and I figured you’d get someone like Sean Bean to play me.
What the hell, Globe Theatre? WTH?
Never mind the talented actors, the clever fight choreography, the rugged costumes and the ingeniously simple but expressive set. When did I turn into a Pythonesque joke with a pageboy haircut and a lisp straight out of The Princess Bride?
First off, I had mistresses, okay? Lots of mistresses. I had, like, noblewoman mistresses. And wicked, unnatural vices. Colby Richardson’s Prince John wouldn’t know an unnatural vice if it kicked his door down at three in the morning with a barrel of mead and a troupe of cross-dressing minstrels. If anyone in the play comes close to capturing my character, it’s probably Oswald Montdragon. Michael Spencer-Davis plays him as a self-possessed schemer with a heart of ice and a lust for power. I could see myself being friends with that guy. And Judy Wensel as Black Barbara Neville? That’s a woman after my own heart.
Secondly: my brother, King Richard? You’ve got him as a grizzled hero, but he was kind of a douche. Five minutes after taking the throne, he sold off half of his properties and took off for The Holy Land, leaving a bunch of incompetents in charge. What else could I do but try and fix his mess? Everybody in the play wants Richard back on the throne. Why? So he can rule for a few more years and die of gangrene when some yutz accidentally spears his shoulder with a crossbow? At least I had the dignity to die of dysentery.
By the way, Robin Hood wasn’t a dispossessed Earl or a do-gooder with a band of merry men. Greg Ochitwa portrays Robin Hood as an impulsive youth who gradually grows into maturity and becomes a legitimate leader by the torturous path of outlawry. The way Ruth Smillie has written it, the rightfulness of Robin’s ascendancy is reinforced by his commitment to ideals of freedom and self-determination, even if that means taking up arms against an unjust system.
Truth time, people: Robin Hood was a crazy guy who lived in the woods. Seriously, I think he slept in a tree. And he never posed a threat to me or my knights because you could hear him giggling in the branches. Which he would throw at us before running away. There’s your hero, folks. A branch-tossing weirdo.
I’m no stranger to humiliation. When the barons cornered me in 1215 and pretty much forced me to sign the Magna Carta, it wasn’t a great day for John. But hey, you got limited rule of the monarchy and the foundations of modern democracy out of it, so that’s not such a bad thing. You should add a scene where all the characters say “We don’t like Prince John, but he’s going to sign the Magna Carta one day, so maybe we should all just do as he says.” I think that’s fair.
But if the public can ignore the hit job that the Globe Theatre has done on my character, they should take their kids to Robin Hood. It’s got two weddings, two archery contests, and a whole lot of fighting, singing, running around, even a few kisses thrown in. Take your family! And then go see my one-man musical, King John Sings the Christmas Hits of the ‘70s.