"the gross and scope of my opinion ..." Hamlet I,1.
Friday, July 17, 2015
THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR
OF KING ARTHUR
Armitage at the Sam Wanamaker
the footsteps of last year's splendid Sir Gawain. Simon Armitage now
follows the legendary 'once
and future king'
on his travels from Carlisle to Avalon, by way of Sandwich, Soissons,
Metz and Milan.
joined on the
by two actors: David Birrell who's the voice of Arthur, and Polly
Frame who does almost everyone else, from
Emperor to Philosopher to arch-villain
Armitage narrates laconically, and Paul Johnson plays a remarkable
range of arcane musical instruments – gongs, singing bowls, pipes
and drums. There's also a pair of coconut shells … a clue that
tongues are in cheeks for at least some of the story.
call this anonymous 14th
century text the Alliterative Morte Arthure,
and Armitage's carefully crafted modern version retains that medieval
device to excellent effect. There's a good deal of feasting -
“extravagant cuisine” - and plenty
gory battles. Two graphic dreams, ripe for interpretation, are
central to the narrative: a fight with dragon and bear, and a wood
full of wolves.
writing is richly textured, and the performance full of movement and
music, both verbal and instrumental. As with Julian Glover's recent
Beowulf, the combination of this Jacobean space and heroic epic
fireside tales is a potent entertainment, even in these days of CGI
packed action movies.
King brought Excalibur crashing down, shearing
off cleanly the corner piece of his shield and
slashing a six-inch wound to his shoulder, spattering
his chain mail with shimmering scarlet blood. He
shuddered and shook, shrank back just a little, but
then shockingly and sharply in his shining armour the
felon struck forcefully with his fine sword, slicing
through the rib plates to our Sovereign’s side; through
hauberk and heavy armour
he opened him up with
a wound to his flesh half a foot wide.