Camelot is a fictional castle somewhere in Great Britain where the Court is linked to the legendary (and equally ficticious) King Arthur. The Knights of his Round Table were said to have seen a vision of the Holy Grail and committed themselves to finding it. For more than 500 years, this story has been regaled down the generations – until one day early in 1960 a libretto written by Alan J Lerner, set to music by his composer partner Frederick Loewe, was brought to the London stage as musical theatre. It was simply called Camelot. First performance was in October 1960. It was an instant success with Richard Burton as King Arthur and Julie Andrews as Guenevere.
Bravely, Surrey Opera decided to re-create the production as their Spring 2015 project. And I have to report that it was stunningly good. In all the years that I have been writing about choral and operatic productions, this one stands out for seriously top class acting, amazingly colourful costumes, ingenious lighting, simple but creative sets and innovative artistic direction. All of this – and more.
Sitting about half way back in the Harlequin’s comfortable auditorium, I heard every word and syllable sung or spoken by the actors and actresses and by the chorus. Some may say that this is normal – but it is’nt. Good diction enables the telling of the story clearly and succinctly, in this case being able to easily understand the twists and turns of the love triangle involving King Arthur, his bride Guenevere and Lancelot du Lac. Kevin Jones wore the Arturian crown in a suitably regal style; Emily Yarrow performed exquisitely as Guevenere with recurring mixed emotions and Andrew Bain was perfect as Lancelot, the good-looking European soldier and seducer.
Tim Baldwin had a double role, as Merlyn the magician, King Arthur’s tutor and confidante and as King Pellinore, the rather eccentric family friend. He delivered both with the panache of the accomplished actor that he is. Merlyn’s role is surreal as he gives advice and briefly plays the visionary as the story unfolds. The three Knights of the Round Table – Sir Dinadan played by Sebastian Charlesworth, Sir Lionel by James Schouten and Sir Sagramore by Jack Tebbutt, were convincing in their respective roles, wearing latter-day battle dress from the days of the Crusades. Penny Locke played the Lady-in-Waiting to Guinevere with the wisdom of her stage supporting role.
Jonathan Butcher is in a league of his own as Conductor coupled with the role as Artistic Director. Fine, flowing music came from his orchestra of 22 musicians. Not a single cue was missed, polished performances from both the orchestra and stage. What a pleasure it was to just sit there and be constantly amazed by all the talented people in this excellent production.