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Merlin review at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton – ‘totally magical’

Merlin at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Luke MacGregor Merlin at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton. Photo: Luke MacGregor

Let’s hear it for librarians. A bespectacled coterie of them are called into service to tell the story of Merlin in a show that is totally magical.

This co-production between the Nuffield in Southampton and the Royal and Derngate in Northampton – the two theatres swapping Christmas shows from the previous year – is written by Ollie Birch and Ella Hickson.

It began life last year in Northampton, has now been reworked for its transfer south and has had new tunes added.

Liam Steel’s production delivers a wonderful fusion of great storytelling, strong plot, fiercesome dragons, funny sight gags, clever lighting (courtesy of Andy Purves), plenty of smoke-and-mirrors effects and hugely likeable characters with commendable messages about the power of books and reading, and about how friendship wins over duty.

Yannis Thavoris’ set of floor to ceiling bookcases that open up, slide apart and slot in and out is fabulous, while a witty hotchpotch of props and costumes help move the story along.

Composer Rob Castell doubles as musical director and a very funny mini-kilted Sir Garotte (and even funnier giant rabbit).

The central trio of dutiful Arthur (Fred Lancaster) and his friends, clumsy Merlin (Adam Welsh) and feisty Gwen (Kayla Meikle) are very strong, but so too are the supporting cast, all of which gets a chance to shine. Sophie Reid’s silver-voiced Lady of the Lake is particularly impressive.

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Powerful storytelling and magical moments add up to an enchanting evening with Merlin and friends