Review: King Arthur’s Night (New World Theatre and Luminato)

A unique take on the Arthurian tale, on stage in Toronto as part of the Luminato Festival

New World Theatre’s production of King Arthur’s Night had its world premiere on Friday at the Berkeley Street Theatre as part of Luminato. The work was commissioned by Luminato and written by Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef who play Arthur and Merlin respectively. McNeil is a 35-year-old playwright and actor living with Down syndrome. Youssef is the artistic director of New World Theatre. Together with director James Long and composer Veda Hille, they’ve created a wonderful and unique work.

Don’t expect a round table with Knights sitting around talking about jousting. In this production one of the characters — Saxon, played by Andrew Gordon — teaches three goats to sword fight. I don’t think there are goats in any other King Arthur legend but this story goes where ever the writers’ imaginations led them.

The program refers to an integrated cast “living with and without Down syndrome”. As well as McNeil, three of the other actors live with Down syndrome; Tiffany King who plays Guinevere, Matthew Tom-Wing who plays Magwitch, and Andrew Gordon who plays Saxon. All three are new to the stage but you wouldn’t know that from their performances.

King gives a nuanced performance as Guinevere, portraying a loving wife, a conflicted lover, and a strong woman.

The scenes between King and McNeil as Guinevere and Arthur were delightful. Loving, kind, and considerate; the type of interaction all marriages might aspire to.

One of my favourite scenes was between McNeil and Billy Marchenski as Lancelot. As Lancelot is announced Arthur calls out that he is to walk ‘elegantly’ as he enters the court. He greets Lancelot harshly and tells him to stop having an affair with Guinevere and then becomes quite friendly as he demonstrates his ability to speak French with a series of basic sentences. Lovely.

The production is beautiful. There’s a large cast, a band, and a 15 person choir on a not very big stage but the space is used very well and it never looks over-crowded. The Choir is behind a curtain at the back of the stage and are only noticeable when the lights are on them.

Kyla Gardiner’s lighting defined the spaces effectively. The curtain serves as the castle walls. In the middle there is a stone entry topped by a cross. There are vines climbing up the walls and their roots show on the ground. When the action moves to the forest the stage becomes fairly dark and the roots light up.

I loved Christine Reimer’s costumes. Arthur was particularly regal, Merlin looked magical, and the goats were quite adorable.

All of the performances were excellent. The battle scene was very impressive, all swirling activity and clashing weapons.

To be honest I’m not sure what the take away is supposed to be. Are we supposed to focus on integrated casting or on the play and performances?

I enjoyed the play. I liked the touch of surreal, the almost ‘Monty Python-esque’ moments. I didn’t feel as if anyone was hitting me on the head with a lesson, always a good thing in my books.

And to Messers McNeil and Youssef: Keep writing plays together guys. That was great.

Details:

  • King Arthur’s Night is playing until June 18th, 2017 at Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St)
  • Shows at 7 pm on the 17th and 2 pm (relaxed performance) on the 18th
  • Ticket prices range from 37.29 to 65.54 and are available online, by phone at 416-368-4849, and at the door

Photo of the cast of King Arthur’s Night by Tim Matheson

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