Twang!! The Musical, originally written by Lionel Bart and Harvey Orkin in 1965 is now showing at the Union Theatre. An adapted version has been rewritten by Julian Woolford and Richard John (my review here.) Its director, Bryan Hodgson, shares his intrigue in Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and the production’s journey so far in the all-singing and all-dancing Sherwood Forest.
What kind of things do you find fascinating about Robin Hood and His Merry Men?
The community. They’re a group of misfits with a strong set of morals. Each person is wonderfully different to anyone else, but they all merge together to create a team of friendship and support. Plus, they fought to protect the needy and vulnerable, and that’s always a winner for me.
Did you grow up with an interest in Robin Hood?
I always loved the Disney cartoon, which later led me to explore the original stories, which are great! Then with my relentless love of musical theatre, I was delighted when I found out there was a toe-tapping version that was available to stage.
Tell me about the musical theatre element of Twang!!
Well, the concept of the show is that the Merry Men are obsessed with musical theatre (far-fetched I know, but it works), so there are LOTS of jazz hands and kick lines involved. The songs are very much Lionel Bart’s originals (but spruced up a little), but there are also lots of unsubtle references; which any musical theatre aficionado will delight in spotting.
The character of Robin Hood is an interesting one. He’s been depicted as a serious and inspirational character, while, on the other side of the coin, a bit of a clown too (e.g. Robin Hood: Men in Tights). Why do you think the comedy version of Robin Hood has won over audiences, as opposed to the valiant Prince of Thieves?
I suppose people have always loved the ridiculous history stories – one simply needs to look at the Carry On films to see why clowning history really works. It’s also a very British thing to mock history, and we somehow seem to always giggle at it. Plus more recently, shows like Spamalot and Something Rotten have put musical theatre on top of that genre, and they really do add a new element of comedy to what now feels like quite an old-fashioned part of British entertainment.
Are the cast familiar with Twang!!, or are they entirely brand new to the musical?
Most of the cast are quite stagey, so they knew of the show, but there is very little out there in terms of research. The show was re-written and re-written back in its original 60s run, so there really wasn’t any kind of definitive script or score. So having it recently reworked and updated meant nobody knew the show at all, which was a delight because we were creating something historic, but also something brand new and wonderfully exciting.
What is your experience of Twang!!? Have you directed it before?
I knew nothing of it at all really. I knew it existed, and I have always been a huge Lionel Bart fan, but I never got round to look at Twang!! But that always excites me anyway – knowing very little about a show and having to create a production entirely from scratch is really thrilling, and also really pride filling to be trusted to do! What I also love is that nobody else has ever seen this updated show, so nobody has any pre-conceptions, which means you can more-or-less do whatever you want with it, and having that open canvas at the start of rehearsals is really refreshing and fun.
What kind of challenges do you come across directing a work like Twang!!?
Probably knowing all of the references in the script. Some of them are quite subtle. For example, Little John says to Robin “You’re going out there a youngster, but you’re gonna come back a star”, which took me a while to remember that it was a quote from 42nd Street. The script is littered with tiny reference, which makes it such a joy to try and spot. I would challenge anyone to find them all during a first viewing!
What type of audience will like Twang!!?
Anyone that loves musical theatre. Surprisingly, we’ve had a lot of lovers of the older shows such as My Fair Lady and Oklahoma (which both get a little mention in the story), and the lovers of those kinds of shows have been delightful to sit next to during the show.
Any lovers of the Carry On style will love it. It’s very much of the same ilk, but with songs on top. Plus, obviously, anyone that loves Robin Hood!
What should the audience expect to see when they come to the Union Theatre to see Twang!!?
A ridiculous hoot of a night out!
Do you have any advice for an aspiring theatre director?
Make your own work! Don’t wait for anything, just get out of your emails and create something!
Twang!! is is showing at the Union Theatre (London) until May 5, 2018. For more information on the show and to book tickets, please click here.