The Tales Of King Arthur.

This play is ideal for encouraging participation from the boys, tell them that they get to wield swords and they'll flock to the audition. It has a reasonably large cast, around thirty, depending on how you allocate roles. A lot of the female roles are cameo roles, appearing in one or two scenes. The main challenge of the play lies in the amount of props and costumes that need to be made. The play presents some interesting opportunities for design students and so I've put together some notes which should be of interest and might provide an assignment or two.


The basic design decision that has to be made is when to set the play historically. Although King Arthur conjures romantic images of knights and chivalry, the logistics of staging such a design concept are beyond the budget and resources of a school. After some research it was decided to place the play at approximately 600AD, around the time of the Dark Ages.  A strong celtic influence provides visual interest and enriched both staging and costumes. The play deals with Arthur's attempt to bring justice and order to a land in chaos and this fits with what was happening in England at the time. The web provided a rich source of images and advice on costumes and weapons. 

Male costumes consisted of a long tunic over simple breeches which was belted and the whole thing finished with a cloak. Female costumes were a long tunic which was worn over a skirt with a tight fitting,long sleeved jersey top which stood for the tight fitting under tunic of the time. A wimple was also worn.

The circular celtic knot design on the floor served as a representation of the round table. As the performance was in the round it was impossible to have an actual table on stage. Name plates around the edge of the circle bore the names of Arthur's knights and helped with positioning.

The play presents several challenges and I would suggest makes excellent material for design students coursework assessments. In this scene, the green Knight allows Gawain a free blow. Gawain decapitates the knight who then picks up his head and walks off. A frame was made which sat on top of the actor's head and a cardboard neck was made for a full head mask. Gawain's sword sliced into the card neck and in doing so pushed off the head which fell to the floor. The green knight needed an extra large tunic and ended up looking a little like an american football player but the final design solution did work well.

Swords were made from soft wood, the blade made in one piece and planed at the edges to give it the correct shape whilst the handle was made from two pieces which were then attached. The handles were varied in style to add variety. The whole thing was then sprayed with a chrome car spray to give the desired effect. Shields were made from circular discs of hardboard, stained and decorated with studded nails around the edges. A central boss was created through using metal ash trays which were nailed on.

Arthur knights Percivale whilst the court looks on. Tunics were decorated at the cuffs and collars with braid and a range of suitable colours were chosen to help differentiate characters. The crown is a simple circle decorated with a central rectangular panel which has a celtic knot design on it.

Lancelot comes to the defence of Guinevere who has been condemned to burn at the stake for treason after Mordred's accusations. The climax of the play is a feast of combat and poses a real challenge for all involved. It didn't help to have the swords , which worked well in early trials, break when striking the shields and causing nervous moments for cast and audience alike!

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