HEADING into their 30th anniversary year, Oddsocks make their traditional New Year visit to the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on January 12.

Known for "bringing classic tales to life with a difference" by adding their trademark rumbustious humour, live music and audience interaction, the family-run Derby company will be presenting company co-founder Andy Barrow’s new

piece Robin Hood And The Revolting Peasants.

Whether staging a car chase in Romeo And Juliet in 2009 or turning Prospero into a Star Wars Jedi in The Tempest last year, Oddsocks revel in creating memorable comedy productions of familiar stories. Now they take on one of the most enduring folk legends and the subject of many ballads, books and films, Robin Hood, as Robin, Little John, Maid Marion and Friar Tuck take on some of their hardest challenges to date: a conniving King, a sinister Sheriff and a downtrodden village of peasants whose

"get up and go" has got up and gone.

"Over the course of 700 years, the ‘romantic folklore hero’, ‘depraved outlaw’ and ‘prince of thieves’ has emerged as a versatile classic, tackled by everyone from Howard Pyle to Walt Disney," says artistic director and writer Barrow, who will play The Sheriff. "We wanted to create a Robin Hood that speaks to a modern audience.

"We like to produce work for a reason, to have a message; for us, Robin Hood is about empowering people. In a crisis, co-operation and teamwork produces far better results than acting as an individual and if you persist within your efforts, eventually you do make a difference."

Developing this point further, Barrow says: "It seems a very current and relevant time to revisit Robin Hood as socially things are quite difficult. It’s an opportunity to entertain while being socially relevant. Although Robin Hood has as positive message, it is a complicated story to tell. It isn’t simply one suggesting 'we should not pay tax', because at the end of the day we all need to pay tax to support the function of society on a variety of levels and it is people similar to that of the Sheriff who do not pay their tax.

"So, I want to be very clear about why Robin Hood is ‘stealing’ and make people question why he is an outlaw or what made him an outlaw. So, yes, we wanted to produce a relevant underlying message while creating entertainment."

Barrow notes how, "when it comes to classic tales, there aren’t many that contain inspirational, significant female roles". "Women tend to be under-represented in history and so to incorporate strong female characters is important to us. We feel a duty to send a message to our young audience that women can be just as brave as Robin; not afraid to stand up for what they believe in," he says.

"I want our Robin Hood And The Revolting Peasants to be equally inspiring for girls and boys alike. I also think Robin Hood is very appropriate for present times. It’s a story that people recognise and we're looking forward to telling it in a fun, interactive and entertaining way. It certainly has something for everyone: action, love, laughter with an abundance of live music and mischief."

Reflecting on casting himself as the Sheriff, as well as Narrator 4, Pauline and Norman 3, Barrow says: "I'm playing the nasty Sheriff, not because I have a similar personality; I’m actually really nice.

"The Sheriff has to represent so many negatives and I’ve tried to narrow it down. The main cause of issues, and therefore his significant characteristics, are greed, selfishness, lack of empathy and care for others. Hopefully the audience will see the parallels of the character and enjoy the freedom of being allowed to boo him!"

Joining Barrow in the cast will be Dom Gee-Burch as Robin Hood, Narrator 1,Smelldrick and Petula; Ben Locke as Little John, Narrator 2, Norman 1, Peter and Pamela; Ellen Chivers as Patricia, Narrator 3, Scarlet and Norman 2 and Joanna Brown as Marion, Narrator 5 and Norman 4.

Ask Gee-Burch to sum up Oddsocks' Robin Hood And The Revolting Peasants in three words, and he picks "exciting", "rebellious" and "unpredictable". Ask producer and co-founder Elli Mackenzie to do likewise, and she uses rather more than three: "Well, people can expect fantastic live music, lots of humour, animal puppets, a hero and a heroine. It certainly is traditional but with a large twist of the 21st century, but my three words would be…'Fun, inspirational theatre'," she decides.

Over to you Andy Barrow: "It’s more than 'rollicking good fun'. Three words?!" he asks himself. "I can’t do three words

I’m afraid, but what I will say is that you will enjoy an evening of musical comedy with a slight hint of social comment!"

Only the last few tickets are still available for next Saturday's 7.30pm show at £12 to £18 on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson