Alchemy is on full display in King Arthur’s Night a brand new theatre production conceived by actor Niall McNeil. And co-written by him and Marcus Youssef an award-winning playwright and actor. And what a swirl of desires, darkness, wit and whimsy they are serving up. This is not the King Arthur you know. McNeil’s interpretation of the Arthurian legend is more Samuel Beckett than Jack Whyte. Blended with a tincture of Camelot, thanks to a 16 member choir tuned to an original musical score composed by Veda Hille. This is an epic production that will have you laughing and entranced. And leave you pondering mysteries both absurd (How did the Roundtable get to Harrison Hot Springs?) and profound (What is the link between the soul and intelligence?)
The play’s potency is enhanced by a magic ingredient – some of the actors, including Niall have a genetic condition commonly described as down syndrome. This is simultaneously no big deal and the real deal. Mainly because this play plunges a sword into the heart of the absurd stereotype that people with down syndrome are adorable, childlike and always happy.
Youssef plays Merlin to McNeil’s Arthur in the play. He is servant, fixer, and rainmaker to a proud but tormented king. It is Merlin’s job to assist Arthur to realize his majestic vision. Which mirrors the creative relationship Marcus has with Niall in real life. Marcus adds structure to Niall’s brilliant interplay between memory and imagination.
Make no mistake this is McNeil’s play. He’s in charge on stage and off. One look at this picture and you will feel like kneeling! The interaction between him and Marcus, between the director and cast and among the cast is the most respectful expression of inclusion I have ever seen. They are artists bringing out the best in each other. Sadly for too many folks with disabilities, genuine inclusion has been as elusive as the Arthurian search for the Holy Grail.
Artists like Niall and Marcus aren’t ahead of their time. They are right on time. It’s the rest of us that must catch up with the times. Their creative combination of memory and imagination has given birth to something so unique that our perception is altered and our assumptions are punctured.
In King Arthur’s Night inclusion is the real deal. A sure sign that the times are changing.
- King Arthur’s Night premieres at Toronto’s Luminato Festival June 15 -18 and then moves to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from June 24-26.
- For those of you who can’t make it here’s a clip of their dress rehearsal in Banff.
- Reviews by Globe and Mail and Toronto Star.
We’re ready, we’re brave, we’re tough and we can do it. (Niall McNeil)