Audiences were clearly turned off by the Americanisation of King Arthur in Jerry Bruckheimer's recent film re-telling of the classic Arthurian legend. I doubt that they’ll feel the same way about the Library Theatre's new production, which retains the essence of the Arthurian legend and takes the audience on an epic journey.
Acclaimed writer Charles Way works his magic again, following his musical updating of Scrooge last year. Of this new offering, Way says in a programme note: "I want people to have fun. I want this to be uplifting." Watching young Arthur attempting to prove his strength and thwart evil at every turn could prove to be a real no-brainer as most of us, young and old, know the story off by heart. But Way's wonderful script succeeds in making the audience 'believe' as if it were the first time.
For children, the joy of this production is in being able to follow young Arthur in his various adventures. A naive but strong-minded individual, Arthur learns that he’s adopted and that his entire life is a lie. Then, a mysterious magician, Merlin, appears to him in a dream and announces that the king has died. The young lad must then grow up fast and embark on a thrilling journey of discovery.
Roma Patel's wonderful projections of Merlin and Kate Burnett's adaptable set complement each other well, enabling the audience to travel with the young protagonist. It would have been so easy to overcrowd the stage but, here, less is definitely more.
As the protagonist, Alexander Campbell portrays Arthur's disbelief at being the chosen one beautifully. He has excellent chemistry with his loyal brother (played by Patrick Connolly). Elsewhere, Duncan Henderson and Rebecca Steele generate warmth and good humour as Arthur's loving parents, while Wylie Longmore's Merlin glides majestically across the stage, enthralling both children and adults.
On the night I attended, the audience rapturously applauded key scenes, not least the one depicting the famous sword in the stone incident, clearly moved and enthused by Roger Haines excellent direction.
The Library Theatre has become synonymous with excellent festive family fare, and this wonderfully old fashioned epic production proves to be no exception. Even if occasionally over earnest, it remains endearing and uplifting throughout. A magical adaptation and a real yuletide treat.
- Glenn Meads