Expertly treading the line between cheese and charm is this new musical from Augment Productions. The tale of the once and future king is given new life in this musical adaptation that combines magic, dragons and folk inspired, original music. Led through the tale by an engaging Merlin, played by Ed Court, Arthur’s Quest explores the life of young Arthur before he became a the hero we all know.
The production does an excellent job of transforming technology into magic, making great use of the illuminated manuscript that makes up part of their set. The staging is dynamic and easily plays to every audience member, despite the difficulty of performing in the round.
The music cannot be faulted, with songs that are catchy and beautifully layered. The harmonies are well sung and the live accompaniment really sets it apart. A particular highlight is the song ‘the Tallest Tower’, where Guinevere, played Lydia Shaw, sings about the horrors of being trapped in a tower. What could have been uninspired is made delightfully funny as Guinevere swerves between spoilt little princess and imprisoned victim. Shaw managed to both highlight the comedy and to portray the plight of the princess without it becoming too saccharine. However, it highlighted that while this bit was hilarious the rest of the production seemed to hint at humour rather than embrace it.
Though perfectly lovely, the plot isn’t particularly sophisticated. It tells the tale of young Arthur and Guinevere, how they befriend one another and Arthur’s attempt to save her from the dragon when she is captured. Despite some clever attempts to include references to well-known aspects of Arthurian legend, the tale does not stand out; it could be any generic medieval tale. The characters are familiarly named if not particularly recognisable in performance. The charismatic Merlin, played by Ed Court, is severely underused and fails to make an impact that matches his famous character. Both Arthur and Guinevere managed to avoid sounding overly trite, despite the occasionally simplistic language. However, Sophia Lewis, as the Evil Stepmother, failed to convey the threat needed to give the production any sense of urgency.
The glimmers of comedy genius nestled in this production should be elaborated on. A bit less charm and a lot more bite would go a long way to properly showcasing this talented cast and solid production.