Mirror Magazine

And the legend continues…
By Sachie Fernando and Anuradha Samarajiva
The legend of King Arthur is both well known and a mystery at the same time…
Who exactly was King Arthur? What were the powers of the sword Excalibur? These were the questions Jehan Bastians and Neidra Williams had to face when writing the script for their play The Legend of Excalibur. The play, billed as an original work by their production company Silent Hands involved a lot of research and bringing together of different ideas during the creation of it.

There are countless legends about King Arthur, and the couple had to sift through all of them. According to Jehan, there are at least 14 movies that tell (believe it or not) completely different stories about the same subject. As they wanted to make the best story possible, they opted to use different ideas from movies, books, and other research. Says Neidra of the process, “It was very hard for us to do research and come up with the best story.”

The play is adapted from the work of two 19th century playwrights, J. Comyns Carr and Ralph Adams Cram. As the dramas at that time used a lot of heavy language, Neidra’s objective was to keep the basic aspects of the stories, but cut out the extra weight. Some lines are simplified, but many are still very poetic, on the lines of, “Love sets the snare but the caged bird is ours, for ere night’s dusky arms enfold the sun, Lancelot will be your unwitting partner to bring down the king.”

Poetic lines come easily to Jehan and Neidra, as they have become experts in the Shakespearean drama arena over the years. They directed the winning Peterite production at the Interschool Shakespeare Drama Competition in 1999, and have been participating since. In 2003, they introduced their first full-length production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was after this successful play that they came up with this idea. Having observed some friends fooling around with daggers (used as props in a play) by throwing them at a stone, the name “Excalibur” popped into their heads, and from then on there was no turning back.

The duo started writing the play in September 2003, and since then it has gone through three revisions. At the centre of the story is the sword Excalibur, which Neidra described as “actor number one.” While writing, she had an idea of the actors she wanted in her mind and created the characters to suit them. These characters are those that have an understanding of and display ‘mature love’ and responsibility, proving that this is certainly not the Disney version of The Sword and the Stone.

The story revolves around King Arthur, who as a young boy, pulled the sword Excalibur from a stone and proved himself the king. He marries Guinevere, organises the system of the Knights of the Round Table, and brings Camelot and England into a golden age. But there are powerful forces of good and evil at work. The good comes in the form of Merlin, the wizard and the guardian of Excalibur who acts as a father figure for the King and the bad manifests in Morgan La Fey, Arthur’s half sister, who uses her black magic to possess Excalibur and get her revenge. Meanwhile, Arthur’s world crumbles when his wife falls in love with his most trusted knight Lancelot, and Morgan plots with her son Mordred to overthrow King Arthur. These events set the stage for a magical story.

In taking on The Legend of Excalibur, the story that begins with glory and ends with tragedy, Jehan and Neidra wanted to “debunk” the legend of King Arthur and work in the idea that he wasn’t a perfect hero. He brought in new concepts like equality, but in the end circumstances brought him down. But the directors didn’t want to make it a gloomy story, so they included all the elements that make for good theatre, “a punchy storyline” with some pleasant moments. They said they, “have made the story special, mixing up the ideas so that it would not be too happy or too dark.”

As a result, there’s more to this play than just a retelling of an old legend. The playwrights have created an ill-fated love triangle, a magical battle, powerful enemies, betrayal, and tragic deaths. The message that the directors want the audience to go away with is that, “the human being can overcome magic and fate because the human spirit is stronger.”

This amazing story comes to life at the Lionel Wendt on July 23, 24, and 25 at 7.30 p.m. Tickets are priced at Rs. 500, 350, 250, and 150 for the balcony. The box plan will be open at the Wendt from July 1. The Legend of Excalibur is sponsored by Graphitech (Pvt) Ltd, Art TV, and The Sunday Times.


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