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The Legend of King Arthur review at Spiegeltent, Guildford – ‘hearty theatrics’

Alexander Varey in The Legend of King Arthur. Photo: Guildford Stage Company Alexander Varey in The Legend of King Arthur. Photo: Guildford Shakespeare Company/ Matt Pereira
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A week after the National Theatre’s flailing attempt to turn the story of Saint George into a state of the nation play, Guildford Shakespeare Company embraces another British legend in Caroline Devlin’s version of The Legend of King Arthur.

Devlin sticks firmly – if not slavishly – to a mix of Malory, Lord Tennyson and Geoffrey of Monmouth to build her story, while throwing in touches of Horrible Histories and pantomime.

Performed with a cast of five, Devlin’s production is one of theatrical invention and while Anett Black’s costume designs are fairly un-magical, the spiegeltent setting reveals multiple surprises. Quills write their own spells, books slide magically across the stage while lifts and trapdoors propel Merlin between Avalon and Camelot with a conjurer’s bravura. Contemporary humour is provided by an amiable Simon Nock as Fen, a Baldrick-like character with ambition who Noel White’s scheming Merlin uses as an unlikely conduit to Alexander Varey’s solemn Arthur.

Devlin pretty much abandons the Arthur-Launcelot-Guinevere love triangle in favour of exploring the battle between good versus evil in each of us. The relationship between Arthur and Emily Tucker’s refreshingly feminist Morgana Le Fey illustrates the need for communication. There are moments where the moral becomes a becomes a bit laboured but with such hearty theatrics on display, it barely matters.

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Enjoyable and inventive adaptation that merges pantomime magic with Arthurian legend