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Story Pocket Theatre - King Arthur

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THE STAGE **** by Brian G Cooper

Pursuing presentation of traditional stories with darker themes as children's drama, Story Pocket Theatre's production of Michael Morpurgo's versions of the Arthurian legends - Arthur, High King of Britain and The Sleeping Sword - is finely crafted and totally enthralling. When a young man finds himself crowned King Arthur, he embarks on legendary adventures with Lancelot, Gawain and other heroes, experiencing betrayal by Guinevere and secret offspring Mordred, while often challenged by Merlin's brooding presence and the mysterious Lady of the Lake. Compelling physical theatre bulks large as authentically garbed knights engage in realistic sword-play and pole-duels across large stones, while George Jennings' poetic songs offer peaceful contrast.

Nigel Munson is a powerfully effective Green Knight and Mordred, while Otis Waby is a turbulent Lancelot and Mackenzie Scott a dedicated Gawain. Sarine Sofair brings elegant grace to Guinevere and Lady of the Lake, and Thomas Gilbey is zestful as young Arthur. David Gant excels as Merlin and Storyteller, endowing Morpurgo's magically rich language with quasi-Shakespearean feeling.

Gawain and the Green Knight is very impressively worked and the drama portrays heroism, betrayal, feasting and violence perfectly for over-sevens (younger ones present are captivated, too). Story Pocket gives a masterclass in serious theatre for older children. Enthralling, high-quality adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's King Arthur for older children.

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THE SCOTSMAN **** Kelly Apter

From the Lady in the Lake to the Sword in the Stone, there is no shortage of fantastical stories attached to the Arthurian legend. So when Michael Morpurgo sat down to write his 2008 novel for young people Arthur, High King of Britain, his research was a melting pot of fact, fiction and guesswork.

But although we'll never really know exactly what happened to Arthur and the people surrounding him, Morpurgo's version of events comes across with crystal clarity in this energetic new production from Story Pocket Theatre.

Stranded on a rock as the tide washes in, a young boy worries he'll never make it home again. The next thing he knows, he's been rescued by the centuries-old King Arthur who, it transpires, will stay alive for as long as his stories are being told.

And then we're off to Camelot, as the white-bearded King (played with gravitas by actor David Gant, who also doubles as Merlin) takes the young boy back in time to re-enact his fascinating tale. There are too many characters, and too much information, for children under eight to follow - but for older children, teenagers and indeed adults, it's an exciting and informative hour. Swords clash as knights fight to retain their status and search for the Holy Grail; Arthur and his best pal Lancelot struggle to maintain their friendship in the midst of their love triange with Guinevere; and the king's power is threatened by his mean-spirited son, Mordred.

A large grey circular stone inscribed with all the names of the Knights of the Round Table dominates the stage, cleverly broken into separate parts to depict other places and things when required. And while the tales themselves may not be wholly believable, the actors performing them most certainly are.

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Story Pocket Theatre brings to the festival Michael Morpurgo's adapted novel Arthur: High King of Britain. A drowning boy is rescued by a mysterious figure who claims to be Arthur Pendragon; as the old man tells his stories, he is transported back to the heady days of Camelot, the Round Table, Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, Excalibur, Lancelot and Guinevere.

This adaptation is a strong piece of storytelling; full of depth and quality. The production is sure to delight fans of all things Arthur as well as enticing new members along the way. Action is plentiful, with a number of exciting sword fights. The fully immersed cast and clever use of set design including a realistic puppet dog and sensitive costumes in keeping with the period all work seamlessly to hold the audience - whom were captivated throughout.

There is some fairly adult content to contend with - incest and adultery are not avoided but delicately handled. The emphasis is on traditional storytelling with a lot of dialogue which could have been difficult for younger audience members if the energy and clever use of set and song had not weaved through the piece in such harmony.

Story Pocket Theatre brings this well know story to a new crowd in an engaging and passionate drama for young and old alike. Romance, action and magic - what more could you want?!

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ARTS AWARD VOICE ***** by Ellen Orange

The absolute pinnacle of theatrical story-telling; which is what the whole show is about. An adventuring young boy from is magically captured by the aged King Arthur who has been living on earth for hundreds of years waiting to tell his story. The boy, and audience, are transported back to Arthur's youth to hear the legends of the sword in the stone - Excalibur - and Sir Lancelot. Rather than holding a continuous narrative, the show returns to older Arthur and the young boy, and invites the inclusion of other tales such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The story telling of the show was powerful, with a small cast and reasonably sparse set, they brought the stories of Camelot to life incredibly effectively. The set consisted of three large stones, which both made up different, moveable landscapes, as well as becoming the 'round table' when put together. Alongside this there were minimal props and costumes, giving the show enough of a basis to let the imagination fill in the rest.

Propelled to the throne by the act of pulling the sword from the stone, Arthur is guided by Merlin and his adorable hand operated dog, who is there to step in when Arthur needs protection. The storyline consists of well known legends and is kept simple and easy to follow - although with the actors playing multiple parts this may be easier for slightly older children to understand. This is also true of some of the themes, as Arthur being seduced by his half sister Morgana could be difficult for younger children.

However, the show was captivating for adults and children alike - visually through the use of costumes and clever staging, as well as through song and dance used at various times throughout the show, complimenting the medieval context and the storyline. Considering the lack of stage space the actors had to work with the show was well planned, with good choreography of the fight scenes.

There are moments of both drama and comedy, and David Gant as both the older Arthur and Merlin is incredibly moving. It is not often a show can pull off such well known stories as that of King Arthur, particularly as such adventure narratives are more difficult to stage, however, this show completely succeeds with utterly spell binding story-telling.

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THE LIST **** Written by: David Pollock

'The country is united (divided), it needs a strong King,' young Arthur is told, and his future as the fated monarch of England and the surrounding empire is sealed. It was the sixth century AD, but the theme of a divided country hasn't changed much, it seems. This version of Michael Morpurgo's young adult fantasy novel Arthur, High King of Britain is well-located within the National Museum of Scotland, blending a dramatic experience for young audiences with a handy primer on Arthurian legend.

The action is busy, unfolding on a stage which, for the most part, bears the entire ensemble of seven throughout - plus a puppet dog, who is the eyes of the wizard Merlin. His appearance owes much to a small scale version of the title character from that other most famous of Morpurgo stage adaptations, War Horse.

Produced by Story Pocket Theatre from Adam Fletcher-Forde's adaptation, the piece effectively translates Morpurgo's sense of epic clarity, distilled from disputed and only part-recorded historic myths.

In the present day, a young boy has an accident in a cave and finds an aged man who claims to be King Arthur, alive for eternity here. Played with an airy, distinguished wisdom by the white-haired David Gant (who also appears as the wizard Merlin), he claims to be the eternal King Arthur. He tells his tales for the boy - one involving the younger Arthur's (played with nobility by Thomas Gilbey, a War Horse alumnus) wife Guinevere, her affair with his most heroic knight Lancelot, and the scheming of Arthur's son Mordred and his enchantress mother Morgan Le Fay.

It's straightly-played but still a compelling adventure story filled with well-choreographed action and quality performances, and best suited to grip late primary school and early teenage viewers

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BROADWAY BABY **** by James Beagon

Story Pocket Theatre bring Michael Morpurgo's novel to life with a solid and enjoyable production. Though occasionally meandering in its storytelling, it is a good afternoon's worth of family entertainment. It's always refreshing to see theatre for children that doesn't seek to patronise its target audience.

David Gant and Thomas Gilbey lead a very capable cast, with Gant playing Merlin and both playing Arthur at different stages of his life. The ensemble as a whole is very strong and talented, although there were occasional volume issues to contend with. It could also be slightly clearer when members of the ensemble are changing characters. Some changes were obvious (such as Guinevere into a masked Morgana) but other changes between the various indistinguishable Knights of the Round Table could have been lost on younger children.

The adaptation itself is fairly fluid for the most part, although it suffers from odd changes in tone between comedy and more serious story-telling. Some more mature events, such as Morgana being Arthur's half-sister and fathering his child, are kept in the adaptation which is certainly not a bad thing, but it feels undermined by some of the silliness either side of it. Whilst comic relief can always be welcome, here it is introduced by the script in ways that can occasionally feel jarring. It would perhaps be better to maintain a more consistent tone one way or the other. Similarly, the story of Gawain and the Green Knight, whilst entertaining, feels out of step with the rest of the production and with the production coming in at 75 minutes long, it could have possibly been cut or shortened to make a tighter overall play.

But this aside, the production is very enjoyable to behold. Whilst a couple of children may have been sagging towards the end, they jumped to life when the sword-fighting began. Tight and well-choreographed, it showed the production at its best. Very impressive too was the construction of the dog puppet by Polly Beestone, with clear echoes of the other famous Morpurgo stage adaptation - War Horse. The minstrel songs accompanying the story add a welcome charm and the well-designed yet simple set, easily sliding together into the Round Table, was an excellent choice. The ensemble bounce off each very well and it's always refreshing to see theatre for children that doesn't seek to patronise its target audience.

Michael Morpurgo's King Arthur is a very recommendable production for slightly older children, perhaps aged 7 and above. These children might appreciate a slightly more grown-up tone, but younger children might struggle not to fidget outside of the sword-fights.

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'Today's the day'! Let's all rise for Arthur High King of Britain currently swishing his sword atop his round table at the almighty Edinburgh Fringe Festival!

Story Pocket theatre company have crammed a whopping trunkful of King Arthur's adventures into this passionate and punch-packing 75 minute production. Blink and you might miss a gripping twist in this Camelot tale. Expect the glorious Guinevere, love-seeking Lancelot, magnificent Merlin, and many more to come and go as the actors impressively slink between roles with gusto.

Recommended for children aged 7 plus, our (almost) 4 year-old side kick (ooops!) didn't even move a muscle while Arthur, the wild wanderer and dreamer, prepared to battle the Saxons, the Scots, and the Irish. It speaks volumes when the only utterance from the young audience during this sophisticated story was the crunch of sweetie paper rustling! The vivacious energy of the ensemble made for an accessible telling of this terrific tale.

High King highlights included an endearing puppet dog, convincing combat, catchy sing-songs and a gigantic axe-wielding knight: 'I want one of those, Mummy' said our well-impressed watcher! A bravely basic set of 3 rock pieces worked wonders as a backdrop for Arthur's adventures, cleverly coming together for an important piece of furniture needed to round off the story.

In this fuss-free, frill-less and rather fabulous production, Michael Morpurgo's adaptation is done proud! The seven superb actors more than deserve a standing ovation for their captivating performances. And we'd like to award an extra special seal of approval to Thomas Gilbey for a very cool King Arthur, and for inspiring our very own brave and chivalrous knight-in-waiting!

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A cleverly designed set shifts to create different landscapes within the small stage on which Michael Morpurgo's King Arthur is set. The audience is transported through a myriad of different locations and times - it is easy to get swept up in the magic of the show when it contains such an incredibly impressive breadth of action and escapism.

Fitting a tale as long and with as many characters as King Arthur into the space of just over an hour, with a cast of just seven, is a challenge. Younger viewers may find it difficult to keep up with the rapid change in scenes and actors who play a variety of different roles.

However, although recommended for 7+, the wealth of storytelling, energy and elegance of the traditional songs, provides enough to keep all ages entertained.

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THREE WEEKS **** Caro Moses

We do love Story Pocket Theatre so headed to this adaptation with high hopes, which were not disappointed. This was a beautifully rendered telling of the tale, featuring strong performances and the most adorable puppet-dog we have every laid eyes on. It's difficult to convey all the twists and turns of a long and drawn out story like Arthur's without it seeming rushed, or sketchy, and there were times when I felt as though we were racing through parts of the plot, but the cast are excellent, the set (as with their previous shows) was attractive, clever, and cleverly used, and there were no dull moments. A great show for older children, and of course, their parents and carers.

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PRIMARY TIMES, Louise Wilson

It is no mean feat to bring such well-loved folklore to the stage for a young audience but Story Pocket Theatre has done just that in this darkly entertaining performance. An excellent introduction to the enduring Arthurian legend, Morpurgo's King Arthur brings the heroic deeds of the Knights of the Round Table vividly to life in this high quality production from Story Pocket Theatre. The versatile performers use physical theatre, puppetry, music and storytelling to convey the saga of the unlikely King, the beguiling Guinevere, mystical Merlin and the noble knights. Mordred is suitably knavish and the spectral Lady of the Lake spellbinding.

The tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is particularly well enacted and the jousting and swordfighting scenes are superbly choreographed. Faithful to the original texts we are brought to Camelot through the memories of a centuries old Arthur and much of the narrative arc is familiar - Excalibur, the dashing Lancelot, the Holy Grail and the round table. This production feels like 'proper theatre' for older children and is a polished and professional adaptation of Morpurgo's novel. It is no mean feat to bring such well-loved folklore to the stage for a young audience but Story Pocket Theatre has done just that in this darkly entertaining performance.

And our young reviewers said:
Jake Age 10 - "The sword-fighting was awesome and the story really interesting. I liked it when Arthur was the only one that could pull the sword from the stone"
Anna Age 8 - "The Lady of the Lake was spooky and I liked the big Green Knight although I thought he was going to chop Gawain's head off!"


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This dramatisation of the book by Michael Morpurgo - perhaps best-known nowadays as the writer of War Horse - sees a boy, caught on the rocks as the tide comes in, saved by an old man named Arthur Pendragon. This is the once and future King Arthur, who waits as he has done for centuries for his country's hour of need. Glad of the company, he starts to tell the boy his tale… quests, knights and all.

We see Arthur's youth: tormented by his older brother, to whom he is a squire. They travel to London, where he pulls the fabled sword from the stone and is pronounced High King. He battles to unite and defend Britain, falling in love with Guinevere and eventually founding Camelot. From Gawain to Pellinore, Lancelot to Morgana Le Fey, there is legend, sword fighting, giants, love and magic.

This is an interesting setting for these famous legends, which cover the whole of Arthur's reign. It maintains the storytelling feel while also providing visually exciting theatre. The scenery is very cleverly done; a few large "rocks" flexibly double as tables or paths, and allow for changes in height during the action. They were especially well used during the fighting scenes, which are notable for their skill, choreography and visual appeal.

But while it was lovely to have faithful adaption of the book, and include so many of the tales within the Arthurian Legend, without an interval the show was too long for many of the children in the audience. There was visible and obvious fidgeting towards the end. This is a particular shame, because the show covers a much greater breadth of the stories than most, and was generally well-presented.

As the story moves between the present day and history, the actors change roles: we see the boy become King Arthur and the Old King Arthur take on Merlin. While it was clear who Boy/Arthur was at any given time, the same was not always true for Arthur/Merlin. Even something as simple as reversing his cloak to distinguish the two characters would have helped.

Overall though, this is a well-done retelling of Arthurian legends; the costumes and music work to set the scene and the actors are engaging. There is plenty to keep the audience entertained and to introduce us to the basics of many of the tales. I'm just not sure about the "7+" classification - I'd say that 10-year-olds are more likely to stay interested throughout the piece.

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