Thursday, 27 August 2020

REVIEW: Camelot at the Watermill Theatre


The Watermill has led the way with its short season of outdoor theatre in its delightful grounds. Following its tongue in cheek version of The Hound of the Baskerville, the artistic director, Paul Hart has directed a concert version of the 1960 musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe with his usual trademark actor-musician casting. It is a simple but charmingly effective staging that showcases the fabulous score.

I am predisposed to enjoy the evening partly because of the warm welcome and consistently high standards the Watermill productions deliver but mainly as the show brings back strong memories of the 1982 production of Camelot with Richard Harris as Arthur and Fiona Fullerton as Guinevere at the Apollo Victoria, which remains one of my all-time favourite musical productions. Harris's powerful charismatic stage presence made up for his lack of singing voice and he rang every emotional response from his final rallying call to young Tom to carry the legend of the knights of the round table home.

In Hart's production, which makes several subtle COVID references to amuse the audience, he casts West End husband and wife stars, Michael Jibson as King Arthur and Caroline Sheen as Guinevere to get round social distancing protocols! Jibson who was so good as the King in Hamilton in the West End premiere looks the part and delivers his songs well, despite appearing to read the lines from the libretto he carries throughout. When he hands it over to Tom in the final scene he adds power and emotion to his delivery. Sheen who played Violet in 9 to 5 in the recent West End production, really shines in the role of Guinevere with a delightfully fine voice in her solo songs like "The simple joys of Maidenhead", her duets with Arthur like in " Camelot" and " What do simple folk do" and in her response to Lancelot in "if ever I would leave you ". 

Lancelot played by Marc Antolin is excellent from his first appearance on the roof of the theatre in "C'est Moi" and makes the most of his role in the "The Jousts" as he gallops amongst the tables! Mordred (Peter Dukes) emerges from his place in the band on the trombone in the second half to stir the rivalries and jealousies in " The seven deadly virtues". There is good support from Damien James, Tom Self and Tom Sowinski as the knights of the round table although the rousing " Fie on Goodness" sounded a little thin compared to a full chorus of knights. 

Together they convey the romance and chivalry of the tale with charm and simplicity and we hear every word of Alan Jay Lerners wonderful lyrics. This is sold as a concert and Hart in his notes says the usual production schedules were condensed into a few weeks. Non-singing characters like Merlin and the elderly King Pellinore have been cut, reducing the running time to 100 minutes. What is left is a wonderful concert version of some very fine tunes, with little enjoyable touches of humour and surprisingly rich sound from the seven musicians. 

Once again the Watermill delivers a strong production and despite the chilly August evening, it proved once again that "In short, there's simply not, A more congenial spot, For happily-ever-aftering than here" in the Watermill Theatre, Newbury.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Table for 4 | Price of Ticket: £120 for the table
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