Camelot May 23rd, ’11

It’s festival time!!! YES!!! Having said that – what a way to start into the new Stratford Season!

Not only does Camelot feature famous and fabulous actors from the Company as well as guests, its unique and fun take on Arthurian legend is brilliantly different, yet still recognisable and its music makes me love this musical (I know, I know, I keep saying I don’t like musicals.-.. well, I’ve decided, this isn’t one. So there!) 😉

Also this particular production has some incredibly fantastic visual treats that are beyond awesome. There is in fact only one scene I didn’t like in it and I will come to that a little later, but I realise that I’m probably nitpicking.

The introductory music brings us straight to the woods close to Camelot, – the art department provided a floor made of amazing gold and green and blue inlays that I’d kill to possess if I only had a room big enough to show it off properly. A very old Merlin is following a very young Arthur around – calling out for him – and all of a sudden from high up above an honest to god real life HAWK sails down to land on Merlin’s fist only to grab the piece of meat held there and covering it with his wide spread wings.

It is such an awesome picture, the whole audience goes AHH! and nobody dares to clap! A brilliant lead into the story of an unwilling boy who becomes a king because he unwittingly pulls a sword out of an anvil – he has a simple mind and is a simple boy, depending on Merlin, who grows younger at Arthur’s side, living backwards and mixing up future and past as he knows everything – he just doesn’t know which time it is right now…

It is the day Arthur is supposed to meet Guinevere – but he is frightened of her, of the concept of marriage, of women. Much to his surprise Guinevere isn’t off any better – she fled the escort that was supposed to bring her to Camelot as she doesn’t want to be sold off just to maintain peace. She wants adventure. She wants freedom. And romance. And maybe a battle or two for her sake.

Meeting Arthur – who’s hiding in a tree out of fear – helps her romantic streak, but unfortunately the young man is not brutal enough for her romantisized world view. But of course the two fall in love – she with the concept of being adored and a queen, he with her. And Merlin’s work seems done.

Now this is the one scene I wasn’t that fond of – Merlin is lured away by Nimue and in the process of that ascends upwards in an awkward crucification like move.  And as Merlin was heathen rather than a devout christian  I find that particular way of dealing with his demise neither appropriate nor does it explain anything. Oh well, it’s one short scene- there’s so much more to come!

With Merlin gone, Arthur (played by Geraint Wyn Davies – a welsh man playing a welsh king – how apt) all of a sudden has to THINK on his own – helped by his new wife Jenny (Kaylee Harwood)  he dreams up a society of justice, of power that aides the poor and needy and of governance that brings peace and civilization. Unfortunately knights brought up to fight for any cause are not that happy with a peaceful society and when Lancelot comes to court he soon aggravates them all with his holier than thou attitude and his impeccable manners. When this über-knight finally succumbs to his love for Guinevere this is the last straw to the knights’ patience.

Lead by Mordred (Mike Nadajewski, brilliant and sporting a great scottish accent) all hell breaks loose. And all Arthur can do is to go into battle knowing that he is going to lose, his life will end and his dream of a society of civilization will end with him. But then there is little Tom of Warwick, a boy so inspired by the tales of justice and the rightful deeds of the knights of the round table, that he has left his hometown to if necessary die for these stories. In his eyes is a flame and his heart sings with Arthur’s dream – and in 1500 years people will still believe in the one shiny moment of justice lighting up the dark ages, the possibility of a civilization without war. The king sends him home so that he can tell these tales to his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. This boy gives Arthur the strength he needs to be the true king of the round table.

(By that time I had tears in my eyes, of course, and was sniffling pathetically.)

It’s an age old story, brought to life by Lerner and Loewe, with enough backing in the here and  now to make it great entertainment that also gives you food for thought – wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to create a place like Camelot where peace and justice ruled?

That Arthur doesn’t come across as a total moron, a dreamer or a cuckold but as someone who wants to better the lives of the many is certainly all due to Geraint Wyn Davies who spans about 20, even 30 years of a king’s life, changing his attitude as well as his body language and his speech patterns while he matures from the simpleton to the grand king who puts others above his own happiness and needs. He is doing a marvellous job and is rarely off the stage. He also owns a lovely singing voice, probably because of his welsh heritage, and even though it’s not big, it’s very lyrical and full of emotion. Jonathan Winsby (Lancelot) does the moronic über-knight brilliantly, his voice is strong and obviously professionally trained. He manages to convey the change from moron to lover to desperate loser with dignity.  I also was incredibly impressed and entertained by Brent Carver who gave Pellinore just enough humanity to elevate him from a mere clown to a respectable person with “quirks”. But then I really like Brent Carver (he also was Merlin, and I liked his portrayal of the backwards aging man too).

The costumes were to die for – I loved each and every long coat the king and queen wore and would love to have one of them, but then the costume department does work miracles every year, so it was no big surprise that this production outdid itself with their ideas.

I will try to find out more about the hawk- hopefully I can add some behind the scenes stuff soon.

(addendum: at that point the real falconer is playing Merlin in a perfect mask – and the lady-hawk sailing down is in fact the mischievous stand in as the main predator decided it was time to have babies – she’s breeding!)

(addendum2: they sacked the dog! in the programs there’s still a dog featured and Arthur refers to being transformed into a bird and a dog once. But the dog was not very well behaved and poor Brent Carver had to constantly monitor where the dog was, catching the leash – and then it was – the dog has to go. So no dog in this play 😉 )

(addendum3: well, last time was the show of the failing sound system – not that the audience was let in on that, of course – Geraint admitted it to me after the show! They were brilliant at hiding that.

What they couldn’t hide the next time was the wayward bird, of course: Instead of landing on the falconer’s outstretched arm, the hawk did a graceful round over the audience and then settled on one of the “Trees” – basically beautiful golden constructs – high up amongst the lighting. No amount of whistling brought her back down. They had to turn on some of the lights, until finally she glided down and let herself be captured again. They restarted the show with her sitting on “Merlin”‘s fist and when later on in the show Arthur reminds Merlin of being transformed into a hawk, Geraint made this little throw away gesture – and had the whole audience laughing!)

Fact is – I got my seasonal autograph from Geraint Wyn Davies 😉 and therefore am a very happy camper!

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