by Ben Crocker
Camelot: a review by Jonathan Goodson
Ben Crocker’s pantomime treatment of the Camelot tales boils down to a battle for the hand of visiting Princess Guinevere. In light of their budding affection, and with the full weight of Arthurian legend behind his claim, it is clearly Prince Arthur who should get the gig. His rival, Valerin the Vicious, comes across as rather less promising husband material; not least when he snatches Guinevere away, with help from his scheming mother and the wicked sorceress, Morgan La Fay. King Uther responds by dispatching his best people to recover his prospective daughter-in-law. Sadly - as these seem to consist of a cowardly jester, a mincing bear, and a scatty royal nurse called Connie Clatterbottom – we are in for a lengthy and shambolic rescue mission.
This version of master wizard, Merlin, seems a bit too doddery to foil his former apprentice, but he eventually manages just that after first fashioning the elixir of eternal youth to pep himself up. Given that he was already trying to concoct such a potion before the abduction took place, and that none of the protagonists made any useful contribution towards his eventual success, this amounts to a fairly blatant short-circuit of the storyline. The powers of love, hope, teamwork and redemption are rendered irrelevant to the final victory and none of the previous scrambling through woodlands and haunted hotel rooms actually needed to have happened to reach the final position. The sort of unsatisfying plot resolution that even a medium as silly as pantomime should, in my opinion, try to avoid.
That said, with a character list that includes a talking snake, a mute bear, an invisible henchman, and a rather chatty grandfather clock the audience is forewarned to expect the surreal. Embrace this, and you find that the Totternhoe Players’ production is rather good. The talking clock was actually quite funny - so too the dame and the jester - and the bear was played with genuine panache by Asher Noblett. An array of the group’s stalwarts were on hand to carry the show when the story meandered, notably in the roles of Arthur (Jennifer Fry), Merlin (Lindzi Hayward), King Uther (Simon Perkins), Connie (Faisal Mohiuddin) and Valerin’s Mum (Els Tallett).
Of the newer faces, Becky Taylor, playing Morgan, showed a strong singing voice and an impressive stage presence. A touch less haste in the delivery and her performance would have stolen the show. As it is, I think the bear wins it for the wonderful capering and facial expressions.
Musically, I would have welcomed a few of the more rousing, tap-along numbers. The Camelot theme from the stage show is a little dry to trot out at both the opening and the close. ‘I’m Into Something Good’ was my favourite among the songs although, as ever, Valerin was leaving his mother to do most of the work.
Plot pedantry aside, it was a polished production which seemed to go down well with the audience and it was impressive to see so many younger actors taking on significant roles. It bodes well for the future.