King Arthur **

The legend of King Arthur is one of the greatest and most popular stories around the world.  And with its rich characters, intriguing tales and epic ideas, there’s no wonder people have not only been entranced for centuries but have felt the need to ‘add’ to the legend.

Indeed, when it comes to politics, most ideas can still be boiled down to two trains of thought: might is right (think The Art of War or Machiavelli’s The Prince) or the ‘Arthurian’ ideal of might for right.

I have no problem with changes, additions and re-interpretations of old stories for a new audience, but if one is basing a new concept on an old idea, there should still be evidence of that original work.  Siege Perilous’s version of King Arthur has very little to do with any ‘Arthurian’ tale, instead only using the names and slight references to some key moments.

Look at some of the changes.  Arthur is more intent on a successor than on the current plight of his people.  The Knights of the Round Table have been reduced to political power brokers and lobbyists.  Merlin is a powerless servant who reads in order to ‘improve’ himself.  And the biggest change of all, dreaded Mordred is a misunderstood young man who wants to please his father and becomes a sympathetic political pawn.

Say what you want, but there is nothing ‘Arthurian’ about Lucy Nordberg’s play.

However, she is still on to something here.  Remove all of the names and what you have is a very intriguing Shakespearean-style allegory to political power filled with great potential.  While there is nothing ‘Arthurian’ about this, it does have a lot of parallels to themes and characters found in Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Measure for Measure.

As for the production, I can honestly find little fault with it.  I rather liked most of the performances for what they were, with everyone playing at least one solid character and also acting as a strong ensemble, and I thought that Andy Corelli’s direction was quite effective, moving the action at a fairly brisk pace and hinting at some nice chess-like motifs.

But I have to return to Nordberg’s script.  When you claim a work of art is one thing and it ends up being something else, audience members are bound to feel cheated.  I think she has a rather strong story to tell and, with some development, in time it might become a rather strong political allegory.  But as it is presented here, it is an adaptation that shows little evidence, or understanding, of its source material.

King Arthur is a production with strong performance aspects that is greatly let down by its misguided script.  There may be good elements and potential for a good future production, but this isn’t it.

Playing at New Town Theatre, Freemason’s Hall from 14.45-16.15 until August 30.

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