Photo taken mid-performance. Gawain, Percival, Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot are sat in a semicircle.

Review: Gawain and the Green Knight

Adapted by Maria Beltechi and Charlotte Oswell, and based on Tolkien’s translation of the 14th-century poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Rogue Productions’ Gawain and the Green Knight likewise delved into the expectations of knighthood.

The smallness of the Burton Taylor Studio worked in the production’s favour. In the beginning, the Green Knight (Lam Guan Xiong) entered Arthur’s (Thomas Kemball) court and issued his challenge for “a little game”. The knights of the Round Table – Connor Webster’s Gawain, Bella Bradshaw’s Lancelot, and Ming Chi Man’s Percival – who were sat in a semi-circle with Arthur and Guinevere (Lexie Pert), all cast their eyes away, despite the Green Knight asking “is this Arthur’s Court?”, “where’s your fierceness?” The audience is involved: the proximity, coupled with how we complete the circle, implicates the audience in this tension between expectation and self-preservation.

Gawain refuses to let Arthur accept the Green Knight’s challenge because he was the “least lost if [he] should die” – capturing Gawain’s love for those around him as he also goes on to ask for confirmation that nobody else will be hurt. Webster’s portrayal of Gawain’s internal conflict, as someone bound by duty and affected (understandably) by emotion was impressive. Though very differently, this was also evident in his interactions with the lady (Cathy Scoon). Lam’s the lord was also delightfully playful, tying back to the idea of “play[ing] [the Green Knight’s] game”.

The use of sound was also particularly effective and this is to Ben Solomons’ credit. The audience hears Gawain’s heartbeat, which already creates a sense of tension. As he becomes increasingly panicked, his heartbeat speeds up. Perhaps more interesting is the juxtaposition of his emotions and his words: while his heart is beating loudly and quickly, he talks about valiant deeds, perfectly capturing the difficult position he is in as both a knight and an individual aware that he has “been travelling towards [his] end”.

This is helped by the lighting (with Felix Gibbons as lighting designer), especially in the scene of the Green Chapel. The butler (Pert) warns Gawain, pleading for him to turn back. The green lighting creates an eerie atmosphere – the Green Knight’s looming presence is felt.

This is not to say that there aren’t lighter moments in the play (though they are very few): a standout would be the butler’s exchange with Gawain regarding being the “master of the house”. Pert said these lines in complete seriousness, and the delivery was simply excellent.

It is to Andrew Rayne’s credit that the costumes worked so well, and I was particularly impressed by that of the Green Knight. I certainly didn’t expect the Green Knight’s ‘head’ to fall off when Gawain strikes him (and neither did most others going by the reaction of the audience), and this spectacle easily became one of the most memorable scenes of the production.

In the end, things are seemingly restored as Gawain returns to Arthur’s court, but he is irrevocably changed — he is “not proud, not proud at all”. The ending echoes what Gawain says before he enters the Green Chapel: “I won’t pretend that I’m not terrified…but I have to go”.

Image credit: Mr Robin Bradshaw