I’m pleased to report that after much soul-searching, hand-wringing and other consternations I have finally found a work-able forumla for our second show of the Ennotville summer season, William Rowley’s the Birth of Merlin.
The Birth of Merlin is a Jacobean play, erroneously (or purposefully) attributed to William Shakespeare, though even a cursory examination of the text is enough to dispel his hand in the authorship. It concerns several facets of the Arthurian legend – the battles between the English and the Welsh, the trials of Uther Pendragon, and of course Merlin. It takes a fanciful turn in imagining Merlin’s Birth as a fully-grown man, fathered by the devil himself and brought into the world by one “Joan Go t’oot” a lovely but somewhat gullible lass with a clown for a brother.
As I said, it’s not Shakespeare. Rowley’s command of the English language, while potent enough, pales next to the richness and daring of The Bard. And the plot relies more on mysticism and enchanted diversions that come across as slightly archaic to make its point, rather than the visceral, timeless universal themes employed by Shakespeare.
So the challenge with a play such as this (and with an audience used to a steady diet of the porterhouse steak of Renaissance drama) lies in its presentation. How can we make this outrageous, far-flung story palatable today, and how do we sandwich a show with over forty speaking roles (and countless supernumaries) into the cozy confines of the Ennotville Library?
Finding a simple, elegant solution to this challenge hasn’t been easy. Neither have the mitigating factors of lost rehearsal time, limited cast availabilities and the other projects in our season. But what we have come up with presents the show in a format that I believe our patrons will find both accessible and entertaining.
Rather than committing five acts of cumbersome verse to memory we have chosen to present the text of this play as a dramatic reading, with a number of actors each covering the various roles. To illustrate the action of the play we have other actors, using simple costumes and props, playing the action in dumb show as it is being read aloud.
To the best of my knowledge no on has ever attempted a production in this format before. I don’t even know what you would call it – something between a pantomime and a staged reading. I can’t even be sure that our approach will work, to be completely honest, but I encourage all of you to take the chance to come out and see this show, and share your opinions with me for yourself.
The Birth of Merlin opens on Thursday, July 2nd at 8pm at the Ennotville Library and runs for three weekends. Visit www.grinderproductions.org or call 519-780-7593 to get your tickets now.