Review: Michael Morpurgo's King Arthur
Review by James Beagon published by Broadway Baby on August 9th 2016
Story Pocket Theatre bring Michael Morpurgo’s novel about King Arthur to life with a solid and enjoyable production. Though occasionally meandering in its storytelling, it is a good afternoon’s worth of family entertainment.
David Gant and Thomas Gilbey lead a very capable cast, with Gant playing Merlin and both playing Arthur at different stages of his life. The ensemble as a whole is very strong and talented, although there were occasional volume issues to contend with. It could also be slightly clearer when members of the ensemble are changing characters. Some changes were obvious (such as Guinevere into a masked Morgana) but other changes between the various indistinguishable Knights of the Round Table could have been lost on younger children.
The adaptation itself is fairly fluid for the most part, although it suffers from odd changes in tone between comedy and more serious story-telling. Some more mature events, such as Morgana being Arthur’s half-sister and fathering his child, are kept in the adaptation which is certainly not a bad thing, but it feels undermined by some of the silliness either side of it. Whilst comic relief can always be welcome, here it is introduced by the script in ways that can occasionally feel jarring. It would perhaps be better to maintain a more consistent tone one way or the other. Similarly, the story of Gawain and the Green Knight, whilst entertaining, feels out of step with the rest of the production and with the production coming in at 75 minutes long, it could have possibly been cut or shortened to make a tighter overall play.
But this aside, the production is very enjoyable to behold. Whilst a couple of children may have been sagging towards the end, they jumped to life when the sword-fighting began. Tight and well-choreographed, it showed the production at its best. Very impressive too was the construction of the dog puppet by Polly Beestone, with clear echoes of the other famous Morpurgo stage adaptation - War Horse. The minstrel songs accompanying the story add a welcome charm and the well-designed yet simple set, easily sliding together into the Round Table, was an excellent choice. The ensemble bounce off each very well and it’s always refreshing to see theatre for children that doesn’t seek to patronise its target audience.
Michael Morpurgo’s King Arthur is a very recommendable production for slightly older children, perhaps aged 7 and above. These children might appreciate a slightly more grown-up tone, but younger children might struggle not to fidget outside of the sword-fights.