Guest reviewer: Rosalind Freeborn
The notion of Camelot as a place where peace, kindness and chivalry prevail is something all humans can relate too. We don’t know if he ever really existed, but the legend of England’s King Arthur persists and the story of his ideals, his success as a leader and his, ultimately, tragic end has been the basis for many artistic interpretations.
The musical Camelot, created by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe in 1960 takes as its source the magical book by T S White, The Once and Future King, which conjures a world of hope for a better future which is sadly dashed by human weakness. The musical was a huge Broadway success and played in London in 1964; it was later turned into a movie with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave.But a full London West End production has not been seen for 30 years – until Saturday 6 October 2018.
For one night only, the illustrious London Palladium thrilled to the full orchestral glory of Lerner and Loewe’s score in a concert production of the musical which reinstated songs which had been cut out of earlier productions, mindful of length. And what a fabulous night it was. Without the complication of full staging, costume, lighting and scene changes the sensational cast, chorus and players from the London Musical Theatre Orchestra created a very moving and memorable interpretation of the musical.
Freddie Tapner, conductor and creator of the LMTO has assembled some of London’s best musicians who share his passion for musical theatre. They created a powerful and passionate sound which did credit to the score. The performers were extremely good too; it’s hard when there isn’t enough rehearsal time to be confidently ‘off book’, and the singers stood on stage in front of lecterns for their scores and stayed close to microphones, but sometimes there was a moment of ‘break out’ when a character lifted their eyes from the page to speak and sing with absolute conviction, effectively releasing themselves from the concert shackles and embracing the full demands of theatrical performance.
David Thaxton as Arthur was remarkable. He brought a warmth and wit to the part which belied the character’s burgeoning sense of self-belief and a glorious voice. Throughout his childhood Arthur had depended upon Merlyn, his magical guide, to advise him and turn him into different animals so that he could see the world from different perspectives. Once Merlyn had been taken from him – spirited away by the radiant Nimue, beautifully sung by Celinde Schoenmaker, he was compelled to THINK for himself. And Arthur comes up with a radical idea for a world with no boundaries, no war, no conflict and where a gathering of Knights would meet at a Round Table to discuss their differences without resorting to war. The idea of chivalry, a purity of behaviour, was to be the manner in which all discussion was conducted well, of course we all applaud this sentiment and if only modern-day diplomacy could be depended upon and would that today’s politicians could think this way too.
Guenevere, Arthur’s bride, was beautifully played by Savannah Stevenson. She brought a sassy confidence to the role of Arthur’s queen. Their amusing courtship was charmingly portrayed, and you felt so keenly for the couple when the arrogant, handsome and ‘pure’ Lancelot du Lac appeared on the scene and cracks in their marriage start to appear.
Charles Rice played Lancelot. His magnificent deep voice gave gravitas to some risible lines and we all chuckled at his sense of self-belief as an example of the ‘perfect man’ who would set the standard for all Knights to aspire to. Of course, after a tricky start, where his pride elicits strong feelings of resentment in Guenevere, these feelings switch to love when he kills a fellow knight in a jousting contest and then, by apparent miracle, is able to restore him to life.
So, the love triangle takes shape and we all feel so sorry for the poor beleaguered Arthur who loves Guenevere and also Lancelot whom he regards as a brother, when they both betray him. There was a genuine frisson felt when Arthur sings ‘How to Handle a Woman’ and likewise when Lancelot makes his passionate confession in ‘If I Would Ever Leave You’.
There are some truly wonderful tunes in this musical and also a great libretto with some cracking one liners.
Clive Carter introduced some very welcome comic interest in his playing of Merlyn (done with great aplomb) and as Sir Pellinore, the dithering, dotty old knight who staggers around and makes amusing observations.
The supporting cast of Knights, Matthew McKenna as Sir Dinadan, Emmanuel Kojo as Sir Lionel and Oliver Savile as Sir Sagramore and the wicked, dark-eyed Mordred, played by Sam Swann, provided strong voices and good characterization. However, everyone was upstaged in the final scene by the arrival of Raphael Higgins-Humes as the young Tom of Warwick whose piping voice and strong delivery provided much-needed charm at the end of the musical when the dark clouds of battle were gathering, signalling the loss and the imminent destruction of Camelot.
I feel sorry that this production was for one night only but what a pleasure and a privilege it was to be in the audience for this great occasion. I look forward to many more concert productions by the LMTO.
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