DanceNorth East & YorkshireReview

Northern Ballet: Merlin – Grand Theatre, Leeds

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Choreography and Direction: Drew McOnie

Music: Grant Olding

Music Director: Jonathan Lo

Northern Ballet’s take on the life and times of Merlin explores his early years going through to the famous Excalibur theme when he entraps the sword in an old but steadfast tree instead of the traditional rock of ages. Merlin’s character is played with verve and veracity by Kevin Poeung, who develops his character from being a scared adolescent into a victorious and proud warrior.

This is Drew McOnie’s first ballet and his choreography and direction make this a piece de resistance. McOnie has under his belt such successes as In the Heights, Jesus Christ Superstar, King Kong and Strictly Ballroom. He proves his unsurpassable success in this new genre and brings out the best from the entire ensemble.

The show also benefits from the magical music of Grant Olding performed by the irrepressible Northern Ballet Sinfonia under Jonathan Po. The score ranges from martial drumming for the battle scenes and more subtle and joyous music for the romantic. And right from the start we are wowed by Colin Richmond’s exquisite and inventive set designs using huge sheets of gold as backdrop to the action as well as transporting us to the wild wood. Richmond also matches the golden regal attire of his costumes to the sumptuous golden sheet metal.

There are plenty of pas de deux for Northern Ballet’s fabulous dancers to show their prowess. As well as the fire of the furnace there are magical lanterns passed from one character to another. Anna Watson’s fabulous lighting design carries the narrative along with a fast pace as well as highlighting the key characters. This comes replete with added illusions by Chris Fisher. One of the most charming moments of the performance sees the smoke-bellowing dragon become one of Merlin’s closest friends with wondrous puppetry by Rachael Canning.

Poeung’s Merlin sees the dancer depict both his fear of being found out as a magician as well as his hidden capability in mastering the dark arts. And then the simply beautiful scene with the Lady of the Lake played by Abigail Prudames floats alongside the captivating dancers that portray the ebbs, flows and movements of the lake.

Javier Torres plays the power hungry Vortigen and is the real sense of evil in the tale. Morgan is played by Antoinette Brookes-Daw with lashings of jealousy, envy and self-doubt despite her high rank. Lorenzo Trossello serves as love interest in a romantic triangle of which the other characters Egrain and Morgan are also entangled in.

Whilst the show has all the magic and thrills demanded by a family audience it also has real depth and profundity on the nature of the days of old that Merlin and the characters inhabited.

Runs until 20th November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Magical & Profound

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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