Avalon

This is an insight into a piece of work in its infancy, and it does have a long way to go before it stands on its own two feet. This staged read though of Avalon is littered with clumsy tropes, a lack of consistency in its world building, and an ambiguity in what it is trying to achieve.

My main response was apathetic bafflement – confusion as to what the piece is trying to achieve.

The performance centres on the real life tragic Hollywood starlet Natalie Wood, who was best known for her performances in Rebel Without a Cause, Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story. In mysterious circumstances that shocked America, Wood drowned off the coast of California, near the island city of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, in 1981. Or did she? In a morbid turn, this play reimagines the end of this young woman’s life.

This play envisions Natalie, played by Michele Martin, waking immediately following her apparent demise, as an amnesiac in a strange house. Her only company in this strange place is a man calling himself King Arthur, who is played by Sean Cronin. Apparently this building is on the mythical Isle of Avalon. But who really knows, it’s all rather unclear - there is no explanation given for her apparent survival, or indeed for how she wound up inside this house. The only thing that is clear is that King Arthur didn’t help her out of sea. This confusing lack of attention to detail continues throughout the meandering tale of Natalie rediscovering her memories while, naturally, teaching King Arthur to love again – after his wife Guinevere and best friend Lancelot fell in love leading to a conflict that pulled apart his kingdom. Both Natalie and King Arthur make use of filler exposition heavy flashbacks to pad out the time. Little happens, and not in a Beckett style sense of being in purgatory either. The pair are trapped in Avalon, until they can see a way to escape.

The narrative’s presentation of Natalie was tied up in an antiquated view of women tinged with misogyny. It mixed together troubling tropes. On top of the previously mentioned amnesia, was layered the manic pixie dream girl accompanied of course by the brooding, aloof leading man. King Arthur was mainly employed as a foil for Natalie’s feminine civilising talents to put him in touch with his feelings again. However, speculations about Wood’s private life and death have been made fact in this piece, adding the uncomfortable rape victim narrative to the layers of Natalie’s characterisation. Both King Arthur and Natalie therefore really lack arcs, and the ambiguous almost romance between the two felt forced.

Visually Martin was a dead ringer for Wood in her turn as Maria in West Side Story, on a low budget. She had a heightened, intense, stylised performance method which takes time to get on board with. Cronin’s golden jacket bedecked King Arthur seemed quite reticent, and wielded the world’s most disappointing Excalibur – although his snap changes between characters when jumping in and out of flashbacks multi rolling, were the most engrossing parts of the show.

My main response was apathetic bafflement – confusion as to what the piece is trying to achieve. The plot, or the interactions between the characters and the flashbacks, did not create an interesting dynamic, or reflect interestingly on the lives of Wood or King Arthur.

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The Blurb

A young amnesiac who looks like Natalie Wood washes up near the island town of Avalon, California, and meets an angry recluse who claims to be King Arthur, exiled to recover from the mortal wound that ended his reign.

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