Fit for a king?

9 February 2008

Rex Futurus, The Round Church, 5-9 February, 19:30

3 Stars

Reviewer Ruth Halkon

Torn between loyalties and factions, in a country crumbling into chaos, Rex Futurus explores the death of the Round Table whilst simultaneously depicting the rise of the young King Arthur.

The evocative and beautiful Round Church provided an ideal setting for this ostensibly medieval play, yet although the production looked right, its language – veering painfully between pseudo-medieval rhetoric and modern slang, was not. The play opened violently with a clashing of swords, gripping the audience’s attention. Yet that attention waned as the grunting and sword swinging dragged on. This overly protracted action continued throughout the rest of the play, which would have benefited from severe cutting.

The two complimentary plot strands were skilfully intertwined, linked by the clever casting of the same actor (Alex Higgs) to play both young Arthur and Mordred – though it took imagination to believe that the young and old Arthur (Ed Martineau) were meant to be the same person. The plot itself also seemed to lose its identity, especially in the second half, switching abruptly and not quite successfully from the high drama appropriate to Malory, to slapstick comedy more redolent of Monty Python.

The performances of the actors were praiseworthy, given the limitations of the script as well as the echoing acoustics – which meant many lines were lost – and the size of the audience (even smaller than the cast). Ed Martineau’s Arthur powerfully captured this flawed hero, at once ‘court joker’ and England’s greatest King. He was at his strongest in the play’s closing scenes, intensely depicting the fierce desperation of a man faced with the loss of everything. Iona Blair as Morgan le Fay was equally entrancing, both as the wild, charming young girl of Arthur’s youth, and as the formidable sorceress whose son Mordred brings about the demise of the Round Table.

Although the passion in parts of this production was slightly too reminiscent of Sixth Form drama, particularly in the final parting between Lancelot (Monty d’Inverno) and Guinevere (Hannah Love), this was more than compensated for by the compelling and skilfully choreographed fight scenes, capturing the intensity of a battle to the death without seeming camp or ludicrous. Despite being overlong, Jennifer Blair’s Rex Futurus had moments of intense passion, high drama and a very well behaved live rabbit.