Morte d'Arthur, Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Director Gregory Doran presents Thomas Malory's prose romance in a lucid, revelatory stage production. In a playing time of just three-and-a-half hours, we have the stories of the sword in the stone, the vision of Excalibur in the misty lake, the defeat of King Lot, the love triangle of Arthur, Guenever and Launcelot, the fellowship of the Round Table, the search for the Holy Grail, the jousts at Winchester, the usurpation of Mordred and the final battle.

In some ways, it's a brutally inadequate summation of what C S Lewis called "the great cathedral of words" in Malory but you do get flashes of it in the descriptive passages. And there is nothing scrambled in the story line, which thickens into a Shakespearean texture of love, sacrifice and redemption. Jonjo O'Neill's Launcelot is the fierce and valorous knight of true fable, Mariah Gale's impulsive, virginal Elaine the perfect foil, and Kirsty Woodward's arraigned Guenever, rescued from the bonfire but spurning Launcelot's final kiss, a tall and haughty convert to religious orders.

The other narrative strand follows the sons of Lot – Gawain, Agravain and Gareth of Orkney – avenging their father's death at the hands of Arthur's knight King Pellinor, while their half-brother, the bastard Mordred, skulks like a psychotic rat-bag on the sidelines. Young Gareth is played with pimply eagerness by Gruffud Glyn,.

The one failure in Doran's staging – topped and tailed with ecclesiastical chanting, flecked by candlelight – is the shadow play of silhouettes and projections. But two big horses at the jousts are magnificent.

Sam Troughton's wide-eyed Arthur, cleverly ageing to a rancorous old tyrant, supplies a lot of the show's driving energy, and there are notable contributions from Noma Dumezweni as Morgan Le Fay and Forbes Masson as a dreadlocked, hirsute Merlin.

To 28 August (0844 800 1110)