Edinburgh Fringe 2011
An enjoyable recasting, with lovely music and plenty of involvement of the children in the audience, Aireborne bring King Arthur to life at C Eca.
We are all greeted by the actors as themselves on entry to the small studio space at C Eca, set in the round (or square to be precise). The show engages interest from the start as we search for Merlin’s chest. Merlin is played young and here we have a mix of traditional and modern use of language that seems to mark out a lot of children’s shows on the Fringe. Sometimes the childen are addressed almost as young adults, sometimes perfectly as young people. Sometimes the tale telling is far too wordy, other times we have simple images, captivating props and gentle story telling.
Acoustic instruments, calm brown, green and grey costumes, and a black box space, this is a young cast. The cast sit among us. Lights fade a little. We enter a very visual story, presented with much energy in a well designed theatre space.
What story does everybody want to hear today? King Arthur, of course…Merlin has a strong, resonant voice, and gains attention from the start. A tale of Albion, a tale of a king, and a tale of questing knights.
The cast of five work hard and what we have here is a kind of collaborative story. Everyone wants to play the parts! Merlin is the storyteller and he narrates the tale born of questions from the others. The scene is set and we are introduced to the knights of the round table. The king is suitably regal, the knights gallant and comical, and Merlin commands the narrative. The round table is evoked simply and effectively using a chest and red cloth. The children’s eyes lit up when they saw it.
The trouble with the piece is that it doesn’t quite know if the fourth wall is up or not. The stagecraft is a bit messy and I’ll defined in places. It shines forth sometimes but other times the music, movement and speaking are a kind of story overload and there are far too many words in this for a children’s show.
The atmosphere is warm, the theatre accessible. With the audience so close to the action, it’s a show that does hold interest. Movement is sometimes too shuffling and this makes some the words hard to hear. A few pauses and a bit of courage to build in silence would really enhance the atmosphere and magical content of the piece. Children need time to take it all in and some of the dialogue runs much too fast. Performing in the round is not easy and a cardinal rule is not to engage in static dialogue that significantly excludes some of the audience, unless for a good, designed reason. In several places this is exactly what happens and it occludes not only the words and expression but also the narrative.
The real virtue of the show is its beautiful music, and its attempt to bring the audience into the action and make them feel involved and part of the story. This creates a real community feel in the room. And that lasts the hour.
The show is full of nice ideas, inventive set and props but the mix of styles and variation in vocal skills and pandering to adult language sometimes makes it sometimes much less accessible. I wish they’d allow the key virtue to shine forth even more – simple, physical storytelling with some terrific props (for example, the lake) Edit the script a bit – it doesn’t need contemporary jokes and language. The mix of modern and traditional doesn’t blend together well. Just as we’re in a magical mood, it’s ripped away from us with a clumsy one-liner.
However, it’s an enjoyable attempt at a bit of immersiveness. It held the interest some some children more than others, and the sheer energy and inventiveness makes it well worth seeing.