At Waterfront Theatre until April 28
Posted on April 20, 2013
Arthur may have been the king of all Britain, but in this Carousel Theatre for Young People production Kayvon Kelly (as Kay) rules the stage: the kids love him.
He takes pratfalls, reveals himself as a scaredy-cat, gets drunk in his underwear, sucks his thumb, mixes up his words – calling himself, at one point, “the schnitzel of all England”. The kids lap it up.
And that’s good because this world premiere, commissioned by Carousel, written by Jeff Pitcher and directed by Carole Higgins probably goes over the head of many of the younger set with words like “aversion”, “ambiguous”, “compassion” and the oft-repeated phrase both Arthur and his sister Morgana say, “What ails thee?”
“What ails thee” is critical to playwright Pitcher’s pitch: if, as the wizard Merlin declares, Arthur ever asks that question he will unite all of England and “will forgive, seek peace and rule with compassion and understanding”. That’s not an easy concept to grasp: asking a question is the first step to finding an answer.
But here’s part of the magic of theatre: the kids don’t care if they don’t ‘get’ it all. Al Frisk’s set is a Disney-like castle with ramparts, balcony and dungeon. Jeff Harrison brings it to life with light, Jeff Tymoschuk adds music and sound and Barb Clayden’s costumes take us back to the Middle Ages. And there’s sword fighting. It’s live and lively even if the little ones don’t know what a “bastard son” is.
The idea for Arthur: Boy King arose from Higgins’ musings on Prince William and Prince Harry following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Sovereignty often falls on young shoulders as it did with the present Queen who, upon the death of her father became queen at the age of twenty-five. In Pitcher’s play, Arthur (Arthur MacKinnon), Lancelot (Stephen Beaver), Kay (Kayvon Kelly) and Guinevere (Susan Coodin) appear to be teenagers when Arthur’s father, King Uther, dies. Arthur, therefore, is “Artie”, Lancelot is “Lance” and Guinevere is “Gwin”. The romance between Lance and Gwin looks a lot like puppy love with some innocent cuddling in the forest.
When Arthur does finally ask, “What ails thee?” and Merlin crowns him King of all Britain, Arthur appears to turn – uh, sixteen? I don’t know how this squares with history and, in fact, we now believe that King Arthur was a composite of various rulers so does it really matter?
And while the kiddies might not understand the “enchantments” – scenes in which Merlin or Morgana cast spells involving the materializing of The Boy (Aidan Wessels) – even the little ones know that Morgana, portrayed by Melissa Oei, is manipulative and wicked. (By the conclusion, however, even I was confused as to whether her wickedness was in the service of good.) Oei’s performance, however, is deliberate, large and dramatic – just the kind of performance to capture the kids’ imagination.
Scott Bellis, as Merlin, is wily and mischievous especially as he adds a live slug to the potion he’s brewing for The Boy. The ‘echo effect’ used for The Boy makes his words very difficult to understand and while the adults understand that his words are actually being spoken through him by Morgana or Merlin, the kids probably don’t. However, Ian Butcher, as King Lot, clad in black leather, studs and tall black boots, leaves no question: he’s the bad guy.
Arthur: Boy King is intended for children aged seven and older. The night I attended, I sat behind three kids, ages 6 and maybe 7. The moms agreed that their children probably didn’t understand a fair bit of what was going on but they said the kids would talk about it later and add their own interpretation. They weren’t passive receptors of what was happening on stage, they were active participants. And that is, after all, what theatre is all about.