After a banner-waving, foot-stomping opening scene set to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” the five-actor Het Laagland Theater Company from Holland looks like it’s going to give the King Arthur legend some kid-friendly theatrical juice. But it soon appears that this stripped-down, five-actor version of the epic legend (“Camalittle”?) has exhausted its creativity in an awkwardly spoken, oddly paced production playing at the New Victory Theater this month.
The show may have some touring brand appeal with the familiarity of the sword-in-the-stone tale, but it’s doubtful savvy youngsters will be attracted to the clunky dialogue, rudimentary swordplay and tedious English folk songs requiring a pitch pipe. You know you’re in trouble when your wizard is a bore, and the best Thomas Boer’s lackluster Merlin can do is some lame juggling.
The age-8-and-up crowd also isn’t likely to be seduced by the second half of the production, which centers on the romantic triangle between Arthur (Vincent Rietveld), Guinevere (a smartly self-possessed Anke Engels) and Lancelot (a charismatic Maarten Smit). The sight of Guinevere feeding grapes to a blindfolded Lancelot on his mount is a little too “9½ Weeks” even for today’s pre-teens.
After the royal betrayal of affections is revealed and the king’s rule of law is threatened, Arthur rethinks his Knights of the Round Table concept by presenting a new downsized version of his democratic vision: by starting “smaller circles at home.” The sagging saga simply stops in a rather odd and unsatisfying conclusion that a bit of revived banner waving fails to energize.
What little appeal there is in the production comes early in the show, dealing with the boy who would be king. Kids can identify with the character’s self-doubts and his fears of not living up to his potential. Buddy horseplay, sibling rivalry and the need for loyal friends also hit the right notes, especially when it comes time for Arthur to gather his troops in order to do the knight thing.
But once he becomes king, Arthur turns bureaucrat. “Let’s set an agenda!”, he says, as if that would rally his sword-wielding followers — or his fading-fast young aud.
Something clearly gets lost in the translation of words as well as ideas. Arthur conveys once too often, “I am strong but I am also fragile,” a bizarre kingly confession.
“This is like group therapy,” says Arthur’s exasperated stepbrother Kay (a commanding and well-spoken Hylke Van Sprundel), and few would disagree at that point of the show.
That “King A,” based on an oft-told tale, took four writers as well as the five-person cast shows the danger of committee creators setting an agenda rather than writing a compelling and clear piece of theater for young audiences.