This dramatisation of the book by Michael Morpurgo – perhaps best-known nowadays as the writer of War Horse – sees a boy, caught on the rocks as the tide comes in, saved by an old man named Arthur Pendragon. This is the once and future King Arthur, who waits as he has done for centuries for his country’s hour of need. Glad of the company, he starts to tell the boy his tale… quests, knights and all.
We see Arthur's youth: tormented by his older brother, to whom he is a squire. They travel to London, where he pulls the fabled sword from the stone and is pronounced High King. He battles to unite and defend Britain, falling in love with Guinevere and eventually founding Camelot. From Gawain to Pellinore, Lancelot to Morgana Le Fey, there is legend, sword fighting, giants, love and magic.
This is an interesting setting for these famous legends, which cover the whole of Arthur's reign. It maintains the storytelling feel while also providing visually exciting theatre. The scenery is very cleverly done; a few large "rocks" flexibly double as tables or paths, and allow for changes in height during the action. They were especially well used during the fighting scenes, which are notable for their skill, choreography and visual appeal.
But while it was lovely to have faithful adaption of the book, and include so many of the tales within the Arthurian Legend, without an interval the show was too long for many of the children in the audience. There was visible and obvious fidgeting towards the end. This is a particular shame, because the show covers a much greater breadth of the stories than most, and was generally well-presented.
As the story moves between the present day and history, the actors change roles: we see the boy become King Arthur and the Old King Arthur take on Merlin. While it was clear who Boy/Arthur was at any given time, the same was not always true for Arthur/Merlin. Even something as simple as reversing his cloak to distinguish the two characters would have helped.
Overall though, this is a well-done retelling of Arthurian legends; the costumes and music work to set the scene and the actors are engaging. There is plenty to keep the audience entertained and to introduce us to the basics of many of the tales. I’m just not sure about the “7+” classification – I’d say that 10-year-olds are more likely to stay interested throughout the piece.