Writer: James Phillips
Composer: Heather Fenoughty
Director: Alan Lane
Movement Director: Lucy Hind
Reviewer: Sheila Stratford
Camelot: The Shining City is a modern reworking of the Arthurian legends exploring nationhood and a contemporary people’s movement. It is a spectacle of open air theatre with pyrotechnics, riots, sword fighting and battle scenes. Playwright James Phillips says “the play is about how a revolution happens and how a nation is put together and how a community is formed”. It is an ambitious feat and a credit to the commitment and involvement of the 120 plus strong amateur cast of the Sheffield People’s Theatre supported by four professional actors. It has been produced in collaboration with Slung Low Theatre Company who specialise in experimental and innovative theatre.
The play of three acts opens on the Crucible stage with brutal scenes of interrogation. The revolution is led by a young girl named Bear (Tia Bannon). She is mentored in fighting by her father, the General (Oliver Seaton) and inspired by the tales of King Arthur that she learns from her teacher. This is Tia Bannon’s début professional performance and she is compelling as a self-assured and credible leader. At the end of the first act the audience is instructed to put on their headphones and asked to evacuate the building as part of the developing plot.
Act two is performed outside in Tudor Square. Ten years have elapsed and the masses are still devoted to Bear. Pageants are performed by her followers. The charismatic and radicalised Galahad (Sam Guest) enters and Bear gives him the quest to find the Holy Grail, but she is threatened by his ideals. The majority of the action takes place in the central area of the square but in addition, the glass fronted upstairs foyer of the Crucible theatre is cleverly incorporated to create an almost tableau effect reminiscent of paintings beloved by Bear. The audience is invited to be followers on their smart phones. It is not always possible to see what is happening and the headphones are invaluable in that respect, though as they were not directional it was often hard to decide who was speaking. There is a particularly strong, effective and powerful end to this act.
For act three, the audience of between five to six hundred, are led to the Peace Gardens. It is three years later and the audience witnesses the dramatic fate of the revolution led by Bear.
Camelot: The Shining City is truly theatre brought to the community. Even without the headphones passers-by could not help but be drawn to at least part of the action. The sound designer Matt Angove and composer Heather Fenoughty work superbly together in creating the patriotic ambiance for the play. The plot and message the play is trying to get across is confusing at times, but is compensated by the grand the scale of the production. The experience is highlighted by the intimidation of the riot police and protesters, so that one is made to feel part of it. The pyrotechnic effects are superb.
On the night this review was written, the weather was warm and pleasant with the setting sun casting a beautiful light on the surrounding buildings enhancing the audience experience.
Come equipped for the weather and be prepared to stand throughout acts two or three and you’ll be inspired by the Sheffield People’s Theatre.
Runs until: 18th July 2015
Photo Credit:Mark Douet