This feels very much like a play of two halves. Set in a bleak not-too-distant future where “dreams have been outlawed and imagination has all but vanished”, there is, during the first 20 minutes or so, a lot of information to get across, a bit too much exposition, and a cacophony of ideas. It all feels a bit incoherent.
As the young schoolboy Arthur, Eamon Ali has the job of carrying the bulk of the story along. It’s in the first half of the play that we see his illicit dreams in which he pulls a sword from a stone, becomes king, and leads the young people in a great uprising. Alas, Ali doesn’t quite pull off the sense of authority or majesty that a King Arthur needs, and these scenes are a little flat and uninspiring.
Which is a shame, because from the point in the play where he and his three friends – Guinevere, Griflet and Lancelot – find themselves hiding from the authorities and deciding to take the fight to the enemy, Ali shows a vulnerability and, at the same time, a quiet, steely resolve, which is quite enthralling to watch. This whole scene is engaging and dramatic, very nicely paced and played, and from here on you are drawn in and begin to care about these characters.
There are some good, strong performances – particularly from the younger members of the cast. Mark Lawson gives a solid, dependable turn doubling as Griflet and Kay (amongst other characters), and Jodie Bloom’s Guinevere succeeds in being strong and fearless whilst always allowing us to see the hint of a scared young girl just under the surface.
Some moments are unfortunately thrown away – for example, I wanted much more to be made of pulling the sword from the stone, and Arthur’s ‘call to action’ speech to a news camera is just a little too low key. But there are also some wonderful moments of both drama and comedy; Arthur discovering how the young people’s minds are controlled is quite stunning (nice work here from the sound operator!), and the sequence towards the end when the youngsters are storming Canary Wharf is very funny and a joy to watch. Totally incongruous with the rest of the piece, it shouldn’t really work, but it does.
Sam Haddow’s script is an entertaining and, at times, provoking one and, I feel, with a wee bit more trimming and tweaking, could succeed in having strong, succinct things to say about our society. It’s billed as a show for ages 8 years and above, and is certainly worth an hour of your time this half term.
(originally posted 18 October 2011)