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The Sword in the Stone (tour - Chelmsford, Hylands House)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The T H White version of the King Arthur story – The Sword in the Stone – has long been one of my favourite 20th century tellings of the tale. Cambridge Touring Theatre has a new production of their own take on the original this summer, with its clever sit-up-and-pay-attention lyrics and chirpy tunes by Simon Humphreys.

Visual elements, and not just the comedy routines, are particularly important for children’s shows performed outdoors, especially when the day is overcast. Beth Glass’ costumes for the two girls in the story and for Merlin (James Franklin) are strong in colour and bold in shape, with shocking pink, purple, rich scarlet and bright yellow all in full volume and pristine condition.

Our hero is, of course, young Wart. Steve Wickenden makes him an engaging young man, and his willingness to learn the right lessons both from Merlin and by trusting his own good nature seems perfectly natural. Morgan (Abigail Foreman) is as pert a would-be queen of both magic and the realm as you’re ever likely to encounter and makes all the wrong choices, thanks to Milly Finch’s witch of a Madam Mim. Finch, much given to quaffing from a bottle of cherryade with unusual properties.

Finch and Franklin both have strong singing voices. Broad comedy is in the hands (and feet) of beefy Robert Paice and the more spindly Damian Robinson who cope with everything from a formation fly-past to passing dogs with an audible aversion to theatre. There’s a sprinkling of localised and political references for the adult members of the audience, who enjoyed Tom Curran’s musical accompaniment as much as the children. Barry Evans directs.


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