Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
It seems at times as if the drama has determined to become ever smaller. Not just the small casts and minimal sets and briefer playing times, but the scale of the characters themselves, the magnitude of their concerns, and the dimensions of the world in which they act. That is at least part of what I find so satisfying in Jeff Berryman's hugely ambitious series of plays exploring the history and myth of King Arthur. This play, "Arthur: The Hunt" is the second (Taproot premiered the first last season) in a trilogy, which will eventually be a seven play epic. Its focus is the search for the young Arthur, hidden since infancy, so that he can assume the throne and unite a warring and fractious Britain.
Not only is this a complex historical drama, but it attempts to explore the infinitely greater questions of how our earthly endeavors connect to the higher powers of destiny and spiritual imperative. Berryman's language dares an almost Shakespearean grace and eloquence, and his characters all bear the weight of great historical forces, overpowering passions and desires, and lives lived "...on the edges. Lonely places". Director Scott Nolte keeps the action tightly focused and the characters nicely delineated in terms of identity both personal and political. His use of strong dialect differentiates the many warring kingdoms, but also requires even greater attention from the audience, and is sometimes a bit too arduous. The opening scenes, between the various warlords, have a tendency to shout a bit too much and could use a bit more modulation. The play itself will not be to everyone's taste, perhaps a bit too arcane, but it's also a story so rich and dimensional that for anyone willing to make the effort, the reward is historical drama that combines breadth and depth, immortal scale measured by individual lives.
At the center is Morgan, daughter of Uther Pendragon and now Princess of Cornwall. Emrys, the former King of Powys and counselor to Uther is desperate to know the future of the isle, and no longer has "the sight", a mystical vision that can guide and fortell the future. Now it appears that Morgan has that power, and that she might be the key to finding the young man, Arthur, who can unite the tribes. On her quest, her wanderings from the far North to Lands End, she searches not only for the man, but for her place in all this. When she meets a young warrior, Bledri, there is a powerful connection, and in marrying him, in her tragically incomplete knowledge, she seals her own fate and empowers the destiny of Britain. Though the other kings and Warlords have their mortal power and importance, it is in this woman who must play the key role in uniting the powers of earth with the powers of eternity.
Morgan needs to be both fierce and vulnerable, a woman who nurtures the maternity of a nation and is capable of lethal combat. She is an dreamer and a realist. As she says, "In the end what's left for us but to catch a swift arrow to the heart, and be done?" Sarah Lamb plays the role with a steadfast balance of femininity and feral strength. She has a fine clarity both in her line delivery and in her engagement with the other players, and while we can feel the weariness of her long journey, it's also clear that she has whatever strength it will require, and that her power is divinely inspired and mortally constrained. The role of Bledri, played by Sam Wilson, whom both Morgan and he will discover is in fact Arthur, is played as a decent and civil young man, and while that makes him quite likeable, it denies him some of the stature we needed to see. As a result, there isn't the romantic chemistry between Morgan and Bledri that needs to be there, nor is there an epochal importance in their joining. The play itself never quite gives us the revelatory awe that this is the moment when the destined King will change the nature of the known world forever.
Terry Edward Moore gives the disempowered Emrys a nice sense of political comprehension and personal responsibility. I particularly like the way in which he retains a clear, earthbound political insight but without the transcendent vision he once had. The Warrior-Queen Gwen is given focus and variety by Candace Vance, and Sean Cook plays Bledri's napping and frightened companion, Bedwyr, with welcome comic relief.
"Arthur: The Hunt" is an admirable and engaging piece of classical theatre, the story of great figures enveloped in events that will change the course of history. This is a handsomely mounted, solidly acted and largely satisfying drama. It captured my interest in a distant time, and made it seem relevant and important to the current world and to our own lives. It's a big piece of theatre about big people in a big story, and just that made it refreshingly important and enriching.