‘Camelot’ was based on Bombay-born, T. H. ‘Tim’ White’s 1958 novel, ‘The Once and Future King’. However, White’s most loved story is ‘The Sword in the Stone’, published in 1938. White had a disturbed childhood, with an alcoholic father and an unloving mother. He died of heart failure in 1964 at Alderney in the Channel Islands.
The story of Camelot was made into a musical by Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (musical score) in 1959. They had already written the hugely successful ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Paint Your Wagon’. Lerner, who was most reluctant to write the lyrics, had his wife leave him during the writing and he required treatment for his ulcer and depression. Richard Burton saved the play and helped reduce the production length.
This musical ran on Broadway for 873 performances, with advance sale of three and a half million dollars, it was the winner of four Tony Awards. The first show ran for more than four hours, before being trimmed down to two and a half. It was then made into a film in 1967.
The Old Mill Theatre Company, at the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road in South Perth, are presenting this much-loved musical on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at the earlier time of 7.30 until Saturday 12th May. This play, which is almost three hours including the interval, has many delightful musical numbers that are instantly recognisable – by the middle-aged and older. The novel programme comprises a scroll of A3 cream vellum, complete with the royal crest. It was sold rolled up and tied with a cream ribbon. Most impressive.
The main set shows the outside of a castle. It was designed and constructed by George Boyd, who never settles for a simple representation when the real thing can be built. Normally a theatrical castle wall is a flat – not George, he has created two round towers with turret windows. The set decorator, Sheila Wileman, has painted the quality limestone block effect. In the wings are rotating flats, with full length, woodland photographic scenes on one side and palace wood panelling on the other. The set assistants were Jessie Williams, Judith Gedero Richard, and Sally Hookway, Brendan Tobin and cast. The back wall of the stage is a white cyclorama onto which is projected, a dozen, high quality, stunning scenes.
The projection slides (photographer Marc Dimmick) include forests – fresh and decaying – and striking countryside views as seen from a castle’s huge bay windows. The projection co-ordinator was Blake Jenkins, and the operator Nina O’Doherty. The complex lighting had some beautiful effects; another great design by John Woolrych.
The lighting operator was Ian O’Doherty, who did not miss a cue. Neroli Burton was props manager and there were many historical props required, from wooden folding stools, banners, staffs, and a huge armoury. The daggers and swords, especially Excalibur, were magnificent.
Stage managers Georgia Murray and Karen Steinberg had numerous flat rotations, dais moves and a scrim (thin gauze) that was drawn across the stage for further scene changes and ‘dream’ effects. All set changes were well-planned, swift and efficient.
Awaiting the arrival of his new bride, the admired King Arthur (Richard Hadler), who rather than being a brave warrior is a loveable, slightly insecure fellow known to his friends as Wart. Arthur is told by his senior knight, Sir Dinidan (Howard Steinberg) that the transport carrying his wife to be, the self-assured Princess Guinevere (Ellen Brookes), is stuck on the hill and that the King must go to meet her. Guinevere, who is desperate for a man – any man, as long as he is not royalty – decides to get out of the carriage and walk. She meets Wart in his casual peasant attire, and is immediately attracted to him.
Tradition dictates that the wedding can only take place at the foot of the hill, but the wise old magician and tutor, Merlin (Craig Menner, the correct spelling ‘Merlyn’ is rarely used) with grey habit, long beard and flowing hair, decrees Arthur can marry anywhere. The young Page (Eliza Malcolm) brings the wedding group drinks, and the Priest (Sharon Malcolm) marries the couple.
The beautiful Celtic water nymph, Nimue (pronounced Noo mee eh, Tahlia Menner) is always chasing Merlin, and like the Grim Reaper, is trying to drag him into her cave of Eternal Sleep.
Five years after the royal wedding, a once wise family friend, King Pellinore (Justin Freind) is now a little senile, but still desperate to help. When Arthur, with the help of Guinevere, decides to form a Round Table featuring the finest knights in the land, even Tom of Warwick (Denver Havercroft) a youngster is desperate to go to knight school (This piece of the script was initiated by John F Kennedy, one of Lerner’s Harvard student colleagues).
Knights arrive from every corner. One arrival is the suave Frenchman, Sir Lancelot du Lac (Thomas Dimmick) a bold man decked in shining armour, who was once an enemy of the English. One arrival is King Arthur’s lovechild, now a fine youth, Mordred (Felix Malcolm) who also wishes to join the Table – with plans to destroy it.
Arthur introduces Sir Lancelot to Guinevere at the May Day celebrations. The Queen dislikes Launcelot and arranges a jousting contest with her three bravest knights in a hope they will kill him, but instead, they are severely injured. Soon Arthur notices Guinevere and Launcelot are showing interest in each other.
Evil Mordred bribes his aunt, Morgan le Fey (Jenny Trestrail) the witch that lives in an invisible castle, with sweets, for her to put Arthur under a spell and surround him with an invisible wall to control his power.
Will Mordred win power? Will Arthur and Guinevere’s love be ruined for ever?
Ladies of the court include Rachel Vonk, Suzy June Wakeling, Angelique Machura, Ruby Oliver, Elinor King and Anne Williams. Knights of the Round Table also include Eliezer Aguilla, Adrian Menner, Adam Lebransky, Brandon Orgill and Peter Nam.
Director Neroli Sweetman, aided by Sharon Lamb, kept the pace of the show bounding along, with plenty of action and interesting situations. Musical director, Justin Friend and his piano accompanist, Lea Hayward presented a well-rehearsed choir of singers, who filled the performance with uplifting magic and wonderful renditions of the splendid songs featured in this musical.
There were dozens of superb costumes; Guinevere alone had a different dress on for every stage entrance. The costumes were well sourced by the wardrobe mistress, Michelle Sharp. Michelle was assisted by Rachel Vonk and the magic needle of seamstress Pam Brookes. The most realistic shining suit of armour I suspect was made from car windscreen, silver heat protector material, it looked brilliant. The costumers had managed to source a cotton cloth that had a most convincing chain mail pattern printed on it.
Ellen Brookes was wonderful in the part of Guinevere; her crystal clear voice, with a powerful delivery was very similar to that of Julie Andrews, who played this part on the stage for years. However, this PhD student, who despite studying national security was seen here fraternising with the opposition (Sir Launcelot). Tut, tut. A wonderful performance by Ellen, with a voice that I could listen to all day. Richard Hadler really surprised me with his singing.
Although in a semi ‘spoken’ style, I was most impressed. This quality musical shone, with its lively action and genuine warmth to the singing. Most enjoyable.