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The Royal and Derngate’s Christmas show takes the form of an Arthurian origins story.

Ella Hickson – who also wrote last year’s Wendy and Peter Pan for the RSC – depicts Arthur, Merlin and Guinevere or Gwen as she is here as three childhood friends on the cusp of adulthood.

While Arthur has to contend with the burden of duty and the knowledge that he will one day be King, young Merlin tries to keep his magical powers hidden because he wants to be normal and is afraid of where they might take him.

Both must, eventually, face up to their destinies, but first there’s an awful lot of plot to get through.

There’s a jousting tournament and a bit with a tree god, and a long quest sequence in which a terrified Merlin flees into the woods.

The songs feel a bit superfluous and a comedy subplot involving Charlotte Mills’s Scintillata, a princess of the North who’s desperate to marry an eligible prince, is fitfully amusing but detracts from the relationship between the central trio.

Yannis Thavoris’s towering library of a set is a glorious thing that makes great use of the Royal’s height.

There are some inventive moments – Merlin’s ‘magic’ is performed by veiled figures who emerge from the shadows – and there’s a cute if underused puppet dragon, but Liam Steel’s production is rather tangled and tonally muddled, though anchored by the performances of Will Merrick, as an endearingly gawky Merlin, James Clay, as a suitably dashing Arthur, and Francesca Zoutewelle, as the spirited Gwen.

  • Royal and Derngate, Northampton
  • November 26-January 4, PN November 28
  • Authors: Ella Hickson book, Jon Nicholls music
  • Director: Liam Steel
  • Design: Yannis Thavoris set, Tim Lutkin lighting
  • Musical director: Katherine Toy
  • Technical: Jack Lowe assistant director, Meryl Couper stage manager
  • Cast includes: Will Merrick, James Clay, Francesca Zoutewelle, Charlotte Mills, Imogen Daines, Tom Giles, Fergus O’Donnell, Katherine Toy
  • Producer: Royal and Derngate
  • Running time: 2hrs 15mins

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The Stage
The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.