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Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Review: Wondrous, Wistful Camelot

Camelot company. Photo: D. Hou
Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe
Original production directed and staged by Moss Hart
Based on “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White
Directed by Gary Griffin, Music Direction by Rick Fox
Designed by Debra Hansen
Featuring Geraint Wyn Davies, Kaylee Harwood, Jonathan Winsby and Brent Carver

The story: Based on the last two books of The Once and Future King, (being taken from Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur), a nervous King Arthur awaits the arrival of Guenevere, his arranged bride. He is surprised to learn that she is as nervous as he, and their mutual uncertainty forms a bond that sees them through the creation of the chivalrous code of the Round Table and an idyllic time of great peace. Bonds of peace and love are tested, bent and finally cracked, however, under the weight of an impossible love between Guenevere and the knight Lancelot du Lac, whom Arthur loves like a brother, and Mordred, the illegitimate son of Arthur, intent on destroying the virtues embodied by the Knights of the Round Table.

Might for right, not might means right. Peacemaking, not warmaking. Quests for honour, not money or lands. Civilly hearing all sides of an issue before coming to a consensus decision. Sounds idyllic, no? Welcome to Camelot, where peace reigns - for three hours per performance. On a blue-green-gold stage designed by Debra Hansen that looks like an antiqued jewelry box or Book of Kells, King Arthur, Merlin, Guenevere and Lancelot live once more according to codes of chivalry, fairies swirl about an invisible castle in a golden forest, men can be transformed into birds - often in song and dance. Who wouldn’t like to dwell in this fairy-story for a spell?

Lucky then, are the actors who get to live in Camelot for the next several months. Lucky are the audiences who watch them bring these ancient tales back to life. Newcomer Kaylee Harwood possesses a wonderfully expressive voice which communicates Guenevere’s fear, love and feistiness, and her duet with Geraint Wyn Davies is beautifully moderated so not to overwhelm his softer vocals. Ms. Harwood’s Guenevere is not the frivolous queen of previous incarnations. Instead she is much more a stateswoman, a partner for Arthur. Directors Gary Griffin and Rick Fox made the decision to cut one Guenevere’s songs, the scheming “Follow Me”, which adds to this effect. As a result, her instant dislike of Lancelot is based less on his arrogance than her perception that Lancelot will impose on Arthur with his own ideals.

Jonathan Winsby as Lancelot. Photo D. Hou
 The character of Lancelot is drawn differently in this production as well – gone is the cheesy, arrogant ham, and newcomer Jonathan Winsby’s Lancelot is innocently pious, pulled to Arthur’s court and the Round Table because he truly believes in its principles. Mr. Winsby tries hard to show how much he loves Guenevere, but the attraction between his Lancelot and Ms. Harwood’s Guenevere is rarely palpable, even in the romantically rendered “If Ever Shall I Leave You”.

Geraint Wyn Davies as Arthur. Photo: D. Hou
Instead, most of the chemistry within the triangle is generated Geraint Wyn Davies as Arthur, the uncertain king so desperate to do good and leave a legacy of peace. Mr. Wyn Davies’ pipes may not be as strong as his co-stars’ but it is his depth as an actor that carries this production. The weight he brings to the story sells not only the love Arthur feels for both Guenevere and Lancelot, but also the ideals of the Round Table. His monologue is passionate and heroic – in a time when there are so few larger-than life heroes to believe in, Mr. Wyn Davies makes us believe that Camelot, and peace, is actually possible, if only a few more people believed.

Other performances of note were Mike Nadajewski’s snaky, Glaswegian-accented Mordred, and Brent Carver’s utterly charming King Pellinore, the aging, rusty knight reminiscent of Don Quixote, as well as his brief, enigmatic and wistful turn as Merlin. Actually, for such an enchanting legend, there was very little use of magical devices, save for Merlin rising to the rafters as the nymph Nimue (a stunning Monique Lund) calls him away forever, and the use of a live falcon at the very beginning of the show, meant to represent the boy Arthur (Merlin would routinely turn him into various animals). Inside sources tell me that the falcon was not supposed to land in the magnificent tree at the centre of the stage, but perhaps she was more familiar with the story than anyone realized – Arthur’s favourite hiding spot was always that tree.

A show built to entertain the entire family, Camelot continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 30th, 2011.

Kaylee Harwood, Geraint Wyn Davies. Photo: D. Hou

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