Actress Iris Roberts’s version of Maid Marion is no longer a damsel in distress, she tells Lorne Jackson.
Maid Marion has never been the most aggressive character in the Robin Hood mythology.
She doesn’t have the stature of Little John, or provide the arrow-thunking thrills made famous by her nob-knobbling boyfriend.
All she does is swoon, shriek and allow herself to be bundled over Robin’s shoulder.
The unpalatable truth is that Maid Marion is a staid Marion; as flimsy and fragile as an After Eight. (And being the daughter of a wealthy baron, just as minted.)
However, in a new version of the Hood legend, Marion is feisty and frothing after adventure – just like all those Lincoln-green lads.
The Heart Of Robin Hood is playing in Stratford-upon-Avon at the RSC this Christmas, and stars Iris Roberts as Marion.
She’s a talented young actress who trained in Birmingham.
“This version of the story is completely different from what people are used to,” she says. “It’s still about Robin, but it focuses a lot more on Maid Marion. She’s not the damsel in distress. She kicks butt!”
In other words, she’s a damn hard damsel.
So is it completely different from previous Robin Hood adventures?
“People will recognise certain iconic situations, but they’ve all been turned on their head, including all that Errol Flynn stuff.
“In our version I actually wear the green tights.”
Flynn, who played the role of Robin in a memorable Hollywood movie, sported a fetching moustache.
Will Iris be taking her role swapping antics this far?
“No!” she laughs. “There will be no hairs growing under my nose.”
Iris admits that as a child she was a scrappy individual.
“Now I’m an adult, I’m a very girly-girl. Though what I do share with Marion is that I’m very independent. But as a kid I was quite a tomboy, because I grew up with two brothers so I’m used to defending myself and having fights with them.”
Did she ever defeat them in mortal combat?
“Sometimes. My brother taught me the round-house kick from The Karate Kid. Actually, there’s a bit of karate in the show. That’s probably where that’s come from.”
Iris was brought up in Liverpool, and maintains her accent, though she’ll be playing pukka posh in Robin Hood. She’s glad she never dumped her original dulcet tones.
“I went to Birmingham School of Acting, and luckily they didn’t try and beat it out of me. They were really keen on me keeping hold of who I am.
“Which is nice, because in other drama schools you’re encouraged to speak with more of an RP accent.
Iris is now based in London but she loved her time in Brum.
“It was brilliant. As I said, the drama school encouraged me to really be myself. Which is so important, because our differences are what make us what we are. And they didn’t make me feel bad about being from Liverpool.
“If anything, they made me positive about it, and it actually got me my first few jobs out of drama school. The whole environment was lovely, and living in Birmingham was really good, because it wasn’t in London.
“Doing the Birmingham thing really gave me lots of energy and enthusiasm.”
She adds: “Birmingham is a cool city. I like the Bullring and was always rushing off to spend my pennies there.”
But Iris won’t have much time for Christmas shopping in the next few weeks. She’ll be too busy shaking up the status quo in Sherwood Forest.
“It’s a physically demanding show. The director, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, comes from Iceland, and he’s an actor himself.
“But he originally trained as a gymnast, and when he started out he wanted to incorporate gymnastics and acting into stage work. He’s directed a version of Romeo and Juliet which is really athletic, where they swing from chandeliers. Now he’s continuing that side of things with this show.
“When I first met him for my audition, he said: ‘Are you brave?’ I said: ‘Er... yeah.’
“So he showed me a model of the set. And there’s a forty foot grass slide that I have to shoot down.
“It’s like going down a death-slide in an amusement park every night. And there’s no backing out of it. Once I’m at the top, and my cue comes, I’ve got to go.
“I can’t say: ‘I don’t fancy this tonight’, or the rest of the play won’t go on. So, it’s really physical and I’ve had a few injuries.”
“When we first started out, we didn’t realise what was needed costume-wise and safety-wise.
“And I went down the slide in one of Marion’s dresses. The skirt went up and I just had my knickers on, and no tights. I got the biggest burn, because it’s like AstroTurf I have to slide down. It was really bad on my backside, so I had to wrap my leg in plastic bags every night.
“There’s also a pond filled with water that I have to dip myself in. On the first night my pants came down because they weren’t properly done up around my waste. It was so embarrassing because I had a really rubbish pair of knickers on.
“But the kids loved it. They were laughing their heads off. I think they thought it was part of the show!”
* The Heart Of Robin Hood is running at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon until January 7. For more information or tickets see www.rsc.org.uk