The tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has been told in many different ways. So many ways, in fact, that one might think it almost impossible to reinvent the legend, but writer/director Richard Crane has done just that and, at the same time, has created a piece that, despite being written in the early Seventies, fits fairly and squarely in the 21st century.
There are over 20 performers, mainly teenagers, local students and school pupils. They have come together specifically for this piece and they bring with them a youthful enthusiasm that only serves to enhance the raw talent beneath. There are no “bit parts” here. Each cast member is required to deliver and, whether it’s a rhyming monologue, a song, a sword-fight or a display of gymnastic ability, deliver is exactly what they do.
The audience is seated in four banks either side of a central performance area with a large stage to one side. The opening scene is already set when the auditorium doors open, with bodies strewn all over the place intertwined with shopping trolleys, old crates, dustbin lids and a various other items of “junk” which will all, in time, become scenery or props to aid in the telling of this story.
From the moment that Arthur Ben Morley pulls Excalibur from the stone we are thrown into a world that suffuses the familiar with the experimental. Merlin Chris Barnes narrates the piece, although the familiar robes of the wizard are replaced by a look that is more usually seen in a shop doorway at night. The piece itself is very wordy but, considering the age and experience of some members of the cast, it is delivered with surgical precision.
As well as Arthur and Merlin, other notable performances come from Lukas Habberton as Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred, Daisy Milner who gives her all as a fiery Guinevere and Isabel Gonzalez-Prendergast, as Mordred’s mother Bellicent, who has a singing voice that will take her far.
The outstanding performance prize has to go to Jake Lawrence as Sir Gawaine. During the piece he acts, sings, raps, sword-fights and displays consummate ability on the trampoline. Crane’s dream when he wrote The Quest was to fuse theatre and sport and, with this young man as a shining example, it is obvious that he has succeeded.