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I've lived in Chapel Hill my entire adult life, and I don't believe I had occasion ever to encounter Holly Springs before this past Thursday. It's a dynamic community in the southern portion of Wake County, along the Hwy. 1 corridor as it runs from Raleigh to Sanford. It is readily accessible from all three points of the Triangle; Chapel Hill is easily the farthest away, and I made the trip in forty minutes. Easy!
What drew my attention to Holly Springs was a presentation by the Carolina Children's Theatre concerning a topic near and dear to my heart: King Arthur. Involving a cast of 35 students, ranging from four to twelve years old, in a play written specifically for them by CCT's artistic director, Christina Cass Catton, CCT shows us just how a little-known kid named Arthur became the Once and Future King.
Catton writes her story about Arthur before he becomes known as Arthur Pendragon, in the days after the (believed to be) last Pendragon died without leaving an heir to the British throne. Ten years have passed since that time, and no apparent heir has been found. Not wishing to leave England lacking a head of state, the powers that be state that a tournament will be held in London, and the winner of that tournament shall rule. This has been decided because the original means of ascertaining an heir, the test of the Sword in the Stone, has been long-tried and abandoned because no one has been able to budge the sword from the stone.
Catton manages to combine two very different theatrical events. First, she bases her history – if you can call "myth" history – on T. H. White's The Once and Future King. She then combines these "historical" facts with modern-day children in the shire of Cornwall, on the south-eastern coast of England. Three modern-day kids – two Brits and a Yank – get "yanked" back to the year 503 AD, White's date for this particular event. As with most things Arthurian, times and places are nebulous.
Catton's play takes place in four acts. Acts I and IV are in present day. Acts II and III take place in the year 503. And, not surprisingly, the wizard Merlyn has a great deal to do with what takes place.
The entire show runs about an hour and forty-five minutes. That's essentially the standard two-hour run (incl. intermission) for a theatrical showing – not so difficult for a seasoned actor, but a pretty mean feat for a kindergartener! In Catton's play, every actor plays at least two roles: one in present day England, and one in Arthur's time. Now, tell me true: could you pull that off?
The show is performed in Holly Springs' Cultural Center, which shares its space with the public library. For this production, the lobby of the Center has been decorated, a table with literature straddles the center of the vestibule, and the cast and their own decorations fill the entry to the theater proper. Also, in a move I found to be priceless: instead of commercials for local businesses filling the program, relatives of the cast members are able to congratulate and spur on their intrepid relatives in the cast! A full four pages are put aside for these accolades.
A note to those who love theatre but cannot hear too well: the Center offers hearing devices, and the entire show is signed by a pair of ladies downstage right, in their own spot.
The biggest critique of this particular performance is hesitancy on some of the lines, but this can be attributed to opening night jitters. For the most part, the show proceeds apace, taking us back in time 1600 years to an era of knights, quests, and wayward squires. Arthur, in his role as Squire to Sir Kay, in a pinch and needing a sword for his master, pulls the sword from the stone. Gadzooks! An heir is found! What's more, these three children: Art/Arthur (Christopher Catton), Gwen/Guinevere (Brooke Dilley), and Lance/Lancelot (Daschal Walker), manage to use their little trip back in time to save a beloved village from being overrun by progress, in the form of a massive hotel complex. It is Merlyn, in the guise of a modern day child prodigy, Emrys (Kingsley Price), who masterminds and guides Arthur to his true destiny, as well as getting Art and his two pals back to present day England. Their quiet little Cornwall fishing village called Mevagissey, if one were to go so far as attempt to prove such, is the locale best believed to be the current whereabouts of Camelot.
Remember now, all these kids are primary school age, so we can pretty well conclude that this will not be The Lion in Winter. No way! These kids are having way too much fun!
In a quaint and quiet hamlet in the southern corner of Wake County, a theater is introducing young actors, stagehands, and technicians to the world of the theatre. In a show sporting nearly three dozen young actors, CCT pulls off a full-fledged production of a two-hour play, and does it with almost nary a hitch. Now that's theatre in North Carolina!
Your kids are gonna love this show. Fill the car with them and take the quick jaunt from anywhere in the Triangle down to Holly Springs. They will love you for it.
Young King Arthur continues through Sunday, May 4. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.