Review: Camelot – The Shining City

The Crucible is on fire. Calm, headphone-wearing patrons are evacuated out to Tudor Square, where they are met by an assembled cast of soldiers and riot police. This is Camelot: The Shining City.

Written by local writer James Phillips and realised by Slung Low, a Leeds theatre company specialising in unconventionally staged theatre, Camelot starts like any other play, but the audience venture out into Tudor Square for the second act, and move on up to the Peace Gardens for the grand finale. A massive cast of 150 are leveraged to do justice to the grand story.

Between the large number of local people included in the cast (no one is “bussed in” as James Phillips puts it), the revolutionary aspirations of the plot, and the egalitarian choice to stage the play in view of people going about their everyday business, this really is theatre for the people.

Camelot promises a great deal of spectacle, and delivers wholeheartedly. Expect riots, explosions, smoke grenades, machine guns and tanks. There’s something immensely exciting about seeing one hundred odd people on stage face off against riot police; the large cast enables Camelot to push what we traditionally regard as theatre. The result is virtually cinematic.

Actors among in the audience are used to greatly enhance the immersion during the outdoor sections. At one point, guards pull apparently random (planted) citizens from the audience. Touches like this blur the lines between the production and the wider city, giving the impression of a world much larger than the one the script reveals.

But it’s not all spectacle. Tia Bannon provides an assured, authorative, yet sympathetic figure in Bear. Her transition from vulnerable child to war leader utterly convincing. Oliver Senton is particularly well-cast as her father; the famous general, returning from war.

This isn’t to say there are no flaws. The play cannot sacrifice its modern elements without foregoing realism, nor its historical elements without sacrificing relevance. The end result just about works, but it’s still jarring for characters to be firing assault rifles in one scene, or beckoning the audience to find to a website on their phones, only to then deliver dialogue that could have been picked straight from Arthurian legend. Some may find the morals of the play could benefit from more nuance.

But we can forgive these problems, in part due to the guts of the production and the sheer scope of its vision. When Crucible artistic director Dan Evans took up the role, he cited a wish to integrate theatre more fully with the community. This is a worthy realisation of that goal.

Camelot: The Shining City is showing until Saturday 18th May. Tickets are £15 here.

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  1. Bob Banks

    This show involves People’s Theatre. But it’s People’s Theatre as conceived by David Cameron’s script-writer. The play portrays a rebellion of a disaffected generation against the establishment which descends inexorably into fascism and a blood-soaked perversion of religion and Arthurian legend, ending in catastrophe for the country. Which, of course, is how the establishment would love the People to see things. Challenge us, and doom awaits.
    This is exactly the message they’re sending out to Greece, for example. But should Sheffield People’s Theatre really be aiding and abetting them in this propaganda exercise? Seeing it tonight – and particularly the many young performers whose talents were coopted into this reactionary message – left me feeling sickened.

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