2.5 out of 4 stars
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Rock N’ Roll Musical is set in King Arthur’s court where Sir Gawain accepts a challenge from a mysterious knight who challenges any knight to strike him with his axe if he will take a return blow in a year and a day. Written by John C. Ashton and directed by Nich Radcliffe, this modernized rendition of the medieval text “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” combines rock music with historical literature.
This story combines two types of folklore motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings. In a simple black box setting, the performance of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight: A Rock N’ Roll Musical toes the line between contemporary and traditional. The roller coaster of emotion in plot gets slightly derailed with the unbalance between scenes, when transitions seem long and narrative scenes seem short towards the middle. This is due largely to the fact the text holds a large repetitious moment. The costuming adds a blend of medieval elements and 70s/80s iconic attire such as, headband crowns, long robes with jeans, and heels worn by every woman in the cast. Where this performance really excels is the fight design by Lana Whittington. Fight choreography is difficult to sell to an audience, but the incorporation of a scrim and backlighting allows silhouetted violence to transcend into the imagination. Imaginative puppetry illustrated monsters Sir Gawain fought on his journey to the Green Chapel. Whittington has an intermediate certification with Fight Directors of Canada and is currently training with SAFD. Another imaginative moment that binds the audience in the story world is the clever use of ribbon. Fabrics utilized as a metaphor for greed in food, sport and sexual desires of the material world. The Christian undertones of the original story surface in this retelling.
The repetition in the lyrics drives home themes of honor and temptation to the soundtrack of Foreigner, Scorpions and Great White. Chris Causer (Sir Gawain) impresses with an incredible vocal range. He evokes questions on morality and indulgence in his passional portrayal. Causer holds credits from other productions such as, RENT (Artists Giving Back), Ayn Rand in Love (MCL), and Thom Pain (Jealous Mistress Theatre Company). The production also stars Jack Wright (Bullets over Broadway – NightBlue Productions, Addams Family, American Idiot – Prop Theatre) as the mythic Green Knight. Wright gives an animated performance that is refreshing and bold. Another note-worthy voice is Noah Berman, King Arthur. Berman has a controlled projection and whole tone throughout his performance. There are a large variety of talented voices are prominent within this work. The sound design by Michael G. Maxwell added an element of surrealism, particularly scene transitions with echoed voices aided by shadowed visuals. Southern Illinois University alumnist, Michael G. Maxwell is a sound artist and engineer with an interest in synthesis and electronic audio. The inventive use of audio takes the audience into a different plane that allows the text's dark undertones to surface separate from the dialogue.
The production on the medieval text is admirable for tackling such complex themes on top of adapting into a musical. Pearl Poet Productions is a Chicago-based theatrical production company specializing in the unique genre of the medieval rock musical. Pearl Poet Productions blends old world texts with modern rock music to not only entertain but inform. Their efforts are dedicated to making important works of medieval literature more accessible to modern audiences. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is only the first of the medieval rock n’ roll trilogy for Pearl Poet Productions. Future performances include “Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnelle” and “The Morte Arthur” in upcoming seasons.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is now playing through December 17th at The Raven Theater (6157 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60660). For more information, please visit pearlpoetproductions.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!