June 23, 2010
Morte d'Arthur, Stratford, until 28 August 2010Mike Poulton, the adaptor of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur for the RSC, says in his introduction in the programme that he didn’t want to ‘embark on another Ring Cycle’ and thus had to heavily cut down Malory’s work. Having witnessed the condensed result, all three hours forty-five minutes of it, I think this was a mistake. Why couldn’t it have been three separate shows, an epic cycle that dragged the saga out, instead of a tripartite single play? Ok, so three plays might not be possible economically, but whilst the plot of this abridged version was brilliant, it felt incomplete at places and left me with many questions. A fleshier first section alone could have easily filled the time and the audience would have relished being able to come back for more. I watched the audience’s faces: they were utterly gripped. Time seemed to fly; the staging alone kept us all on tenterhooks, as now Launcelot appeared in the gallery, now Gareth zoomed down on a rope to kill the infamous Red Knight, now Guenevere’s funeral pyre burnt with the smell of sage to the sound of drums. It was an assault on the senses verging on an Artaudian intensity.
The whole auditorium was made use of, with its raw wood make-up being so apt to the context of the play, forming at once both forest and castle. The most traditional stage conventions were used to amazing effect: backlighting displayed not only the amorous conception of Arthur and Margawse’s child, but also a battle and Launcelot’s move to France; projection produced a grotesquely gigantic baby to haunt Arthur and a crystal effect to act as the first sensing of the Holy Grail; light filters shone onto a material backdrop set the tone of the scenes, with angry devil-red giving way to watery blue to sickly, stone-like yellow.
The fantastic script (which even has lines in Latin) gave us glimmers of humorous respite from an otherwise dark tale: Arthur’s initial shock at pulling the sword from the stone - with Sam Troughton’s wide-eyed innocence making us fond of him from the outset - and Gareth’s pot and pan attack, to name a couple. The main drag of the plot though was downwards, into a gloomy well of Arthur’s despair at the knights he had prized so highly - a despair that grew as did his hair. Yet even this gloom was lightened by Arthur’s mysterious disappearance (and possible continuing existence?) and the doting Launcelot’s final redemption - for, as his heart-bedecked costume told, what was his fault but to love another with his whole being?
The play is so dense and of such epic proportions that it simply must be seen. Get in there and grab those 5 quid tickets or hop on the Shakespeare university buses and get some young blood into The Courtyard Theatre!