"This is a good friar, belike!"
Playwright Mike Nichols answers questions about his new radio play, The Gospel of Friar Tuck, which Pigeon Creek will perform in two episodes released in May and June.
Where does your interest in the Robin Hood legends come from?
I've loved the story of Robin Hood ever since I can remember. I grew up reading Robin Hood books (Michael Bishop’s book was my favorite as a kid), watching Robin Hood movies, and playing Robin Hood with my friends in the park near our house. This script is also not the first Robin Hood story I’ve produced. When I was 7, I took all my markers and drew my first Robin Hood story, coloring a picture book for my grandma (The page where I drew a poor peasant in a dungeon filled with cobras makes no sense, but it’s effectively scary). To me, Robin Hood was just a fun tale about heroic characters with swords and bows, running around the woods, fighting bad guys, and being nice to poor people. That was a pretty appealing story to me as a kid.
As I got older, I started to appreciate the more mature approach the story took to complex issues like greed, justice, and vigilantism. Robin Hood’s heroism is nuanced, but in a relatable way. Like in real life, solving social injustice - especially when it comes to wealth inequality - is actually pretty tricky, and along the way, the lines between right and wrong can feel so blurred, you start to wonder which side of it you’ve actually progressed. “Law is not justice.” Though most people would call Robin Hood a good-hearted outlaw, not many feel comfortable following his path of breaking the law to build a better world. Context is everything, of course (We’re not living under feudalism, after all. We have a fair and unexploitable court system that always deals justice . . . right?), but there’s a question at the core of the Robin Hood legend that everyone seems to answer differently: What does justice cost? And trying to find your answer to that question is a very interesting journey.
What research did you do while you were writing the script?
In some ways, I’ve been researching this script most of my life. I’ve been soaking in Robin Hood mythology through books, movies, and television ever since I was a little kid. By the time I was asked to write this script, I’d already watched pretty much every English-speaking film about Robin Hood I can think of, as well as consumed piles of Robin Hood books (fiction and nonfiction). Some of my favorites books are Stephen Lawhead’s “King Raven Trilogy,” Angus Donald’s “Outlaw Chronicles,” and Nathan Makaryk’s “Nottingham” (I named a character “Nathan Angus” as a tribute to Donald and Makaryk, who were both very kind to me while I was working on “The Gospel of Friar Tuck,” with Makaryk even giving feedback on the first drafts).
For this particular script, I created an adaptation of three popular Robin Hood ballads: Child Ballad number 123 - “Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar,” Child Ballad 138 - “Robin Hood and Allen a Dale,” and Child Ballad 150 - “Robin Hood and Maid Marian.” I went back and reread those, as well as reread related Friar Tuck chapters in Howard Pyle’s classic “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” (1883), and Roger Lancelyn Green’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1956). Additionally, I rewatched a number of Friar Tuck scenes from Robin Hood films/TV shows. I also Googled - er, I mean - did super scholarly research on the medieval era of the story. So, if you like Robin Hood, this stays pretty faithful, but maybe don’t go into this expecting it to be a history lesson.