MORTE D’ARTHUR: Adapted by Mike Poulton from Sir Thomas Malory
RSC in the Courtyard, Stratford Upon Avon
Runs 3h 35m, one interval, till 28 August 2010
Review: Rod Dungate 24 June 2010
Always interesting but successful in parts – sometimes spectacularly successful.
It’s quite a daunting task to attempt to adapt Malory’s great collection of stories for dramatic presentation. But at a time when we are seriously asking ourselves what it means to be English (or British) it’s refreshing to look at this work – one in which Mallory is attempting to validate the idea of Englishness (or Britishness). As a theatrical event, this production succeeds only some of the time (but, in the third section, spectacularly succeeds.) It’s always interesting . . . it’s just that some of the time it’s not engaging.
The myth of King Arthur, with its tales of chivalry, round table, honour and purity is still powerful for us. Intriguingly, the tale is also tied up with incest and the rich mix of Paganism, Magic and Christianity. It might be surprising to see Mallory comfortably encompassing Paganism and Christianity, but this was a mix that we lived with for many centuries . . . how sensible we were!
The production, however, hasn’t quite discovered what it wants to be. In the early sections the company tries too hard to tell us the story in all its complexity and fails both to get us to care enough about the characters or follow the history. In focusing too much on the detail, it fails to give us the big picture.
As we move into the third section, though, the production is transformed from stories adaptation to a play. The great and tragic love story of Arthur, Guenever, Launcelot and the battles that ensued with Mordred, Gawain, Gareth, grab us by our hearts and not our heads and we’re held tight. These characters we grow to care a lot about. The impossibility of a happy ending affects us; we have a discomfortingly bleak world view.
Performances are mixed. Frequently actors chop up lines in a peculiar and irritating way. They may be working towards a heightened delivery but the effect is frequently simply declaimed and hard to follow.
There are many bright spots too. Gareth and Lynet (Gruffudd Glyn and Simone Saunders) are adorable – bringing a welcome human touch early on. Sam Troughton is a fine Arthur, vigorous, engaging and aging beautifully. Peter Peverley mixes wickedness with humour as Mordred. Jonjo O’Neill perfectly balances in Launcelot human frailty, heightened love and honour.
Gregory Doran offers us a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration, but one which has not, as yet, achieved its full flowering.
Forbes Masson, Debbie Korley, Richard Katz, Patrick Romer, Sam Troughton, James Howard, Joseph Arkley, james Treherne, Oliver Ryan, Dharmesh Patel, Griffudd Glyn, Peter Peverley, Dyfan Dwyfor, Mariah Gale, David Carr, David Rubin, Simon Saunders, Noma Dumezweni, Christine Entwisle, Kirsty Woodward, Jonjo O’Neill
Directed by: Gregory Doran
Designed by: Katrina Lindsay
Lighting Designed by: Tim Mitchell
Shadows by: Steve Tiplady and Sally Brown – Indefinite Articles
Music by: Adrian Lee and Simon Rogers – Musictopia
Sound by: Jonathan Ruddick
Fights by: Terry King
Movement by: Struan Leslie
Company Text and Voice Work by: Lyun Darnley
company Dramaturg: Jeanie O’Hare
Assistant Director: Justin Audbert