There’s a certain nostalgia and poignancy to The Dukes’ promenade show this year. For many stalwart theatregoers Merlin and the Legend of King Arthur has brought back memories of a similar medieval tale performed in Williamson Park 21 years ago when the theatre was in the early days of staging the outdoor promenades.
There is a great deal to enjoy in this current show. Director Joe Sumsion has made excellent use of the park, choosing some unusual locations for some of the scenes and making the most of the natural ‘ampitheatres’. Even on a drizzly Thursday night the cast of actors held the attention of the large audience who walked from scene to scene as the tale of Merlin, Excalibur and the magical battle between good and evil played out.
Years ago these promenade performances employed lots of special effects and ‘gimmicks’ which amused and entertained even the most hard hearted of audiences. In recent years they have had to rely on good acting and a decent script to ensure the audiences are enthralled until the final moments and this show is no exception.
The audience is rapt until the finale by the lake which was beautifully lit and cleverly staged. Yet it was also slightly disappointing – how this reviewer yearned for something a little more spectacular when Arthur returns the magic sword Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake.
The promenade is always a decent night out. The park is a beautiful backdrop, the play is humorous and quick moving and the actors talented and engaging, even if their singing voices seemed to tail off by the end of the night. And all of this, perhaps enhanced by the Dukes’ announcement that this will be the last promenade for the foreseeable future due to funding cuts, is making it very popular with audiences. This week the theatre announced it was extending its run by a week until August 20.