A Knight's tale forged of legend

Joust in time: Lancelot (left) in disguise takes on the evil Mordred

Morte d'Arthur

The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

*****

SIR Thomas Mallory's tale of Arthur and his knights of the round table, of chivalry, honour and treachery are brought to life in this stunning Royal Shakespeare Company adaptation by Mike Poulton. 

Mallory's epic brought together English and French myth and legend of Arthur, Lancelot and Guenever along with some thoughts of his own and became a best seller on its first printing by William Caxton in 1485, the year of the Battle of Bosworth when Richard III is killed incidentally, bringing to an end in many minds, the Middle Ages.

In this Arthur there is no modern dress just knights in shining armour and realistic war horses in a tale of battles, wars and the duties and chivalry of Knights.

Sam Troughton seems is a much happier Arthur than he is a Romeo in what has been a parallel production though the summer. Not that he was a bad Romeo, far from it, he was excellent, but at 33, playing a teenage lovestruck adolescent devoured by his first love was never the easiest of tasks. 

As Arthur he manages the gauche youth plucking the sword from the stone so matter of factly with humour and aplomb that hr could well be a teenager rushing through life and within a couple of scenes he has become the young  King Arthur gradually growing older with each minute of the next three hours.

KingArthur (Sam Troughton) and Guenever (Kirsty Woodward)- a marriage which will eventually engulf England in civil war

We see him develop from the young king attempting to do everything at once trying to unite his kingdom to the old monarch. A wiser Arthur but still with a final, personal war to fight. Troughton is believable as the king as is Jonjo O'Neill as Lancelot.  

O'Neil, who was an excellent Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, manages to blend humility and passion in portraying the most famous knight of them all, a knight's knight if ever there was one although one suspects his protestations of innocence at his relationship with Queen Guenever, played with regal authority by Kirsty Woodward, might struggle a tad in court.

He certainly had his way with the ladies with Elaine, Mariah Gale, who is Juliet in the current production, dying wondrously of grief when she is rejected by old Lance. 

Noma Dumezweni as Arthur's scheming half sister Morgan Le Fay is always a pleasure to watch, and listen to,  while her nephew, Mordred, Arthur's bastard son by his other half sister Margawse, is delightfully wicked in the crooked hand of Peter Peverley.

He is a sort of slightly deformed, evil mate of The Likely Lads with a penchant for the Richard III look.

His petulant 14-year-old battling adults to keep his hood up as he meets the king - anyone who has had teenagers will recognise that attitude - grows into a really nasty piece of work but Peverley manages to bring a lot of humour to the role with his Geordie accent, gestures and interruptions - you almost end up cheering for him.

 

Arthur, Sam Troughton, is hailed as the King and a legend is born

Accents seemed to be big in mediaeval times with H'away man Mordred, a Belfast Lancelot and Falkirk born Forbes Masson's Merlin sounding like a Plantagenet Billy Connolly amid the myth and magic.

Tales of knights and daring do need chain mail and armour and there is plenty of that with Arthur engaging in wars to all points of the compass at the start of his reign and his knights battling in tournaments, fighting against the odds in adventures to avenge wrongs and rescue maidens - not to mention searching for the Holy Grail.

The final battle is the one for England by the past - and some say future - king.

The battle scenes are stylised with no dripping blood, severed limbs or people run through with swords - poor old Gruffudd Glyn as Gareth dies from a mild slap across the stomach with a sword for example - but the scenes are made more realistic and brought to life by a sort of stereo timpani arrangement with a set of bells, gongs and drums on each side at the rear of the stage.

You can see swords missing by miles but add the crash of metal on metal or flesh,  drums and alarm, and you have a real fight on your hands.

At three-and-a-half hours it is a long reign for Arthur but time flies as the adventure rapidly unfurls before you with plenty of humour, action, some sadness and no little education of the story of Mallory's Arthur. To 28-8-10

Roger Clarke  

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