Theatre review: The Legend of King Arthur, York Theatre Royal


No shortage of thought and effort has gone into making this updated working of the Arthurian legend more than just a hot afternoon or evening at the theatre.

The entire building – including the stage – is transformed into a quest cum treasure hunt area in which families (with a little bit of help from the friendly staff) can search for clues to solve a riddle which comes in handy at the end of the play.

There is music and storytelling beforehand, a knight school for children to learn how to sword fight and other chivalrous deeds whilst the programme with its puzzles and worksheets will help occupy more studious young minds for a precious hour or so once back home again. There are even two special ales brewed by the local York Brewery to mark the occasion.

In other words this is aimed firmly at parents with kids to entertain.

Mike Kenny, whose 2011 adaptation of The Railway Children at the same theatre won an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and who also created a new version of the York Mystery Plays last year, certainly succeeds in his task of providing an engaging and enjoyable experience which entertains across the generations.

His Horrible Histories meets Merlin adventure pitches a young lad on a school trip to York back into the past to a world of magic spells, fire breathing dragons and distressing damsels. Modern day Arthur is not much good at anything apart from playing computer games. And he’s certainly no better suited to life in Camelot where he is routinely upstaged in the arts of combat and wooing by Sir Lancealot - until he becomes king following a bit of jiggery-pokery by his mentor Merlin played by the excellent Matthew Rixon.

On the way there are plenty of songs and jokes, a little bit of ribaldry for the parents and although some of the theatrical conceits work better than others, the good-natured cast convey their enjoyment of the piece so that you can’t help but like it.

In the first act the main parts are played by a community cast of students from local schools. At the press night Ross Hunter proved an outstanding Arthur whilst Naomi Halliday was impressively conniving as Morgana.

The Legend of King Arthur might not convince kids to cast their DS forever into the waters of Avalon but they will have a very good time.

To 31 August