(seen at the performance on 6th February 2022)
There’s a sound reason why Lerner and Lowe’s “Camelot” has not been produced professionally in the West End since 2004. It falls into that unfortunate category alongside “Mack and Mabel”, “Chess”, “Hair” and others of having wonderful songs but impossible issues with the ‘book’ or narrative. In this case, the drama happens in the final 15 minutes of what is normally around a three-hour show. Terrific tunes along the way, but not much drama.
A concert version of the show is thus a rare chance to enjoy the glory of the score played by a live theatre orchestra and sung by (simple) musical theatre folk as they do. Sadly, this event proved for the monkey to be a thoroughly underwhelming experience.
The cast and musicians are blameless. As Lancelot, Bradley Jaden has a swaggering confidence and awesome voice to match. It’s no wonder he was able to pinch the missus off King Arthur (Ramin Karimloo), despite Karimloo’s own vocal abilities and gentle considered approach to the role.
As Guenevere, the apex of the triangle, Lucy St Louis does her best to balance desire with practicality. Her solo “I Loved You Once In Silence” a spell-binding testament to her dilemma.
In far smaller roles, ever-reliable Julie Atherton as Morgan Le Fey delivers perfect narrative, with Georgi Mottram’s “Follow Me” as Nimue equally proficient. The same must be said of the brief appearances of Newtion Matthews as a distracted Merlyn and Ivano Turco as young Mordred, blending well with Atherton on “The Persuasion” at a key moment.
Lucy Drever as Narrator sadly bore the brunt of everything wrong with the evening. Shockingly poor sound by Jonny Dickie and Josh Robins of Robins Audio rendered her inaudible at the start of the show, while whoever was tasked with adapting this production by removing the book left her with dull (and, at times scrappily written) linking paragraphs to speak. These delivered a final kick by having the narrator try and convict Guenevere before that part of the story was sung moments later.
It had all fallen to pieces by the end of the second act anyway. Galloping along to reduce the show to well under two hours including an interval, so many sound cues were missed (“clipping” – the microphones coming on too late when actors begin singing) that those outside the front few rows probably took a wild guess at how the whole ending came to be.
Director Emma Butler managed one mildly amusing moment having the King, Queen and narrator interact for a whistle and the conductor was also given a couple of light interactions. The rest of the time, for a show billed as being filled with magic and humour, Butler truly missed both that and the potential of her top-quality cast to do far more. Even worse, the Trinity Laban Musical Theatre Ensemble choir were chronically under-used - producing occasionally a rich and uplifting sound which could have benefitted the show throughout.
A major song, “Take Me To The Fair” was cut, which could have been their chance to shine – indeed there were a few glimpses of possibilities demonstrated and ignored.
The whole had a feeling of being greatly under-rehearsed, and a true disappointment when compared to the recent “Love Story” and "Bonnie and Clyde" concerts. Both of these were the complete show, done with much love by the production team and treating the material with proper respect.
A wasted opportunity, and with one star for the music and one for the lyric, the third star awarded goes to the performers for managing to tell the tale against the odds. Happy ever-aftering and never be forgot? Not this time, alas.