High Noon Over Camelot

Sun 10th – Sat 23rd August 2014

reviews

Matthew Lavender

at 17:37 on 17th Aug 2014

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You would certainly be excused for harbouring reservations about a show in which the characters from the medieval tales of King Arthur are placed into a story of fantastical science fiction, but the versatile crew The Mechanisms succeed in making the story – and the characters – accessible even to audience members for whom such a genre may not initially appeal.

The crew tell their occasionally bizarre, but well structured, story partly through narration by charismatic leading man Jonny d’Ville, but largely through a variety of songs, and it is this music that promotes the piece from being excessively niche and abstract to an intriguing and somewhat captivating production.

The music is performed flawlessly (at least to the untrained ear) and with an energy and verve which is refreshing for a live show, and the singing is powerful, particularly that of the very impressive Raphaella la Cognizi.

The great achievement of the music, however, is how appropriate the tone and style of each song is to the present situation in the story, and how it accurately captures the mood of the characters. The use of the violin for more sombre scenarios, the drum for moments of aggressive conflict and the harmonica for scenes of light-hearted joviality are excellent touches, which significantly enhance the telling of the story.

This is a particularly important feature of the production because it helps to mitigate the primary drawback of the piece – that the plot is excessively complex and difficult to follow – by guiding you on how you, as an onlooker, should feel about the events currently unfolding.

Science-fiction is, of course, an acquired genre anyway, but is certainly not helped, in this instance, by how confusing the story becomes. This is exacerbated by the fact that it is occasionally difficult to even hear the narrative because it is contained within a song with a lot of backing music.

This is the foremost criticism that one can make of the piece, but it is partly diminished by the fact that the music is, on its own and even without the underlying story, very entertaining.

When this engaging music is combined with captivating story-tellers who never leave their characters, marvellously imaginative costumes and a multi-talented crew with a great deal of internal chemistry, the result, while far from perfect, is rather entertaining and leaves an initially hesitant audience member pleasantly surprised.

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Alex Woolley

at 10:15 on 18th Aug 2014

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High Noon over Camelot includes immortal space pirates; it includes Camelot; it includes some Wild West-esque stuff thrown in. I am not the sort of person who is partial to science fiction. I am particularly not partial to fan fiction (yes, these are very old myths, but there’s always going to be a danger it’ll be no more than rehashed Michael Morpugo or Tennyson). So it is a real testament to The Mechanism’s skill and sense of imagination that within five minutes, even though I was struggling to make out all the words (the major fault of this production), I had got over my fears and reluctance – I was hooked.

The show is fronted by Jonny d’Ville (his real name? I doubt it. But the press release and the internet are refusing to tell me anything more), who is a captivating stage-presence. Equally entrancing is his make-up, the most notable feature of which is a spiral of tree-root-like patterns emanating from around his eyes.

Softly spoken, and with just the right amount of quiet menace in his voice, d’Ville narrates the fantastical, William Burroughs-esque story of the show. It incorporates traditional elements of the King Arthur tales, but transports them to somewhere that varies between the Wild West and outer space. The rest of the band play a variety of instruments, and sing in the roles of numerous different Arthurian characters (Gawain, Mordred, and Gallahan all make extended appearances).

The madness of the story is brought out excellently by the soundtrack: there are lots of funky noises from electric guitars, plenty of sound-effects whose origins I cannot begin to fathom, and a banjo. The instrumental ensemble is absorbingly and all-encompassingly loud – unfortunately, this includes blocking out most of the lyrics of the songs, and the problem is exacerbated by occasionally weak singing. It is not too frustrating – one can very happily soak up the other-wordly atmosphere without understanding precisely what is meant to be going on, but it is a shame when considerable effort must have gone into re-inventing a traditional plot to such a large extent.

Free Fringe shows are rarely so adept at creating a memorable sense of atmosphere, or at reaching for something more significant than observational stand-up. There is a real attempt to reach the sublime in High Noon over Camelot. You may not be able to hear enough of the lyrics to understand the story, but go along without expecting narrative and relish the richness of the world created by the Mechanism in a dingy cellar off George Street.

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