Stratford Trip: Camelot

Having seen Twelfth Night the previous evening, I was excited to see how the Festival theatre, chameleon-like, would morph to accommodate the needs of the classic musical Camelot. What greeted me as I came in was a stage that was emerald green inlaid with Celtic designs, with nothing else on save a gorgeous tree. The orchestra is located directly above the stage in a closed-off compartment -a placement I personally despise, but more on that in another, more specialized post- and I could hear it tuning while reading my programme...

From which dropped a note that stated Geraint Wyn-Davies would not be performing as King Arthur that evening.


Not again!

It's a good thing that save for very very specific circumstances, my enjoyment is not based exclusively on who has been cast in what role.

Besides, Brent Carver (aka my total theatre hero) was still in it... <3

One thing that surprised me about the musical itself, not this performance, was how static the book was. Most of the action that one might associate with Arthurian legend is kept off-stage, and it focuses more closely on the relationships between Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere. I'll go out on a limb and say that this is where the show's strengths lie, because the moments of swashbuckling (or rather, the moments where the company describes swashbuckling that's going on offstage) fell flat, even with this fantastic production. Also, the book is dreadfully wordy. In the programme, director Gary Griffin described this loquaciousness as 'classical'; I think a closer word is 'tiresome'.

That said, this production is probably the most optimal of the show in recent memory, and it was helped along by an outrageous amount of acting talent and scrumptious detail in the design.

This was the most stage effect-heavy show I saw that weekend. From a live falcon to use of the awesome flying gear that the Festival had installed some years ago and still impresses without fail, there was plenty of stagecraft and showmanship present. When text-prescribed magic was present, though, they always kept that element nicely understated and kept far away from the Vegas-style 'stage illusions', as they're calling magic tricks now.

The set and costumes were all lavish and colourful. I was reminded once again of how fortunate the Festival is to have its small army of artisans at its beck and call. The stand-outs in terms of costuming were definitely the glorious suits of armour and the gown that Morgan le Fay wore. The only recurring interior set, Guenevere and Arthur's drawing room was lovingly furnished in warm golds and reds. The garden was also quite lovely, as was the tree that Arthur often went to meditate in.

One small misstep was Guenevere's bedroom. Expansive curtains drew away to reveal a 'bed' about the width and breadth of a very fancy stool. As the young lady sitting behind me so eloquently put it, 'is she going to sleep on that?'

The sound was not quite as loud as it was for Twelfth Night, but the orchestra and singers were still complementary to each other without balance issues. The orchestrations were lush and very romantic, more reminiscent of the original cast recording than of later productions. That said, I could have done without the enormous amount of repetition in some of the songs, and I do wish that someone had simply jettisoned or truncated 'What Do The Simple Folk Do?' Unlike other songs which were extremely cut down, this number was in its complete form, and just as tiresome as it always is. I know that it's probably a good thing to have Arthur and Guenevere singing together in a duet, but good Lord this song is bad.

Something I noticed was that both Lancelot and Arthur's wooing songs try very hard to sell Guenevere on weather. A message about the inconstancy of love, perhaps?

Now, the cast.

As I said, Geraint Wyn-Davies was not performing this evening. His understudy, Sandy Winsby, was great, with a wonderful voice and fantastic delivery of his many, many lines. There were times however where he seemed a bit unfocused, although this could be due to the script and not his performance. He also had great comedic timing and palpable chemistry with Guenevere.

Kaylee Harwood, a gorgeous young lady in the role made famous by Julie Andrews, was charming and had a great deal more spunk than I thought the character would have. She had a full voice that was well-trained and audible, though a bit shaky on the higher notes. Her accent was a bit suspect, I found, but hardly something to be commented on; several people's accents were suspect this evening.

Jonathan Winsby played Lancelot. He is in fact Sandy Winsby's son, which was odd when one considers the relationship their characters have in the play with Guenevere. That oddness aside, he was very good. He had a suspect French accent that was nonetheless quite adorable, and he managed to use a lot of the arrogant purity that the character has to good effect. His voice was quite grand.

Mike Nadajewski played Mordred, and he was funny and crazy as he was in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris last season. I wish he had more time onstage, though.

The rest of the cast was great. A mark of how wealthy the Festival is in terms of talent is the huge amount of highly trained Classical actors who were in bit roles this year. Brent Carver was double cast as Merlin and Sir Pellinore, with more prominence in the latter role. He was hilarious, and also didn't sing at all. Lucy Peacock, one of the most prominent actresses at the Festival, was Morgan le Fay, and did great with her four minutes total of stage time. Bruce Dow was Squire Dap, and Monique Lund, who was Lilli Vanessi in last season's Kiss Me, Kate, was in the chorus.

With so much talent involved in one production, it really didn't matter in the long run how flawed the actual piece is. I can definitely agree with at least one other critic and say that this was a best-case scenario production of Camelot, one that transcended the quality of the libretto and found the vibrancy and life of everything else.

Next Episode: E sees Richard III, outlook on theatre changed forever.

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