High Noon Over Camelot by The Mechanisms
– reviewed by James Webster –
High Noon Over Camelot is a joyously grim, funny and clever update of Arthurian legend, set in a gorgeously sci-fi kind of wild west. Filled with lovably damaged characters, it’s a tale of love, violence and horribly dashed hopes that for a briefest moment gave me hope for the future … but I should have known better for a tale from The Mechanisms.
A word of explanation and honesty: I’m a huge fan of The Mechanisms, a band who take on the persona of immortal space pirates, sharing the tales they’ve gathered from the far corners of the cosmos via a mixture of song and storytelling. I fell a bit in love with them in their first show, Once Upon a Time (in Space) at the 2012 Fringe, when their totally awesome and brutal update of western fairytales spun a bloody and beautiful spell around their audience. Their musical talents, stage presence, diversity and playful grasp of meta-narrative are a winning combination that has remained a charming constant throughout their work.
And High Noon Over Camelot is a very striking piece of work indeed. Let’s break it down into its constituent parts. First up:
They weave the various strands of the Holy Grail narrative and characters together with the distinct grit and steel of a western and the gleaming chrome-like joy of sci-fi with seemingly effortless panache. For an Arthurian geek like myself, the various details they appropriate and subvert enrich the narrative, but even those with no previous knowledge will find much to enjoy in this epic story. The plot starts strong with a blazing gunfight, moves through various twists and turns, builds moments of fierce conflict over wicked humour and longing loves, and ties it all together with heart and intelligence. It zips along to its climactic ending with plenty of zip and verve, barely putting a foot wrong as the tension and emotion builds to its final explosive ending.
The rasping narration from Johnny DeVille creates an atmospheric base, drawing the audience in with his terrific stage presence and taking a real joy in the language of the tale. There’s some very powerful, clever writing here, plus plenty of rich turns of phrase, that DeVille turns playfully round and spits out with visceral fervour. It’s a very solid foundation.
And from that foundation springs the captivating songs, sung in excellent dialogue between the tale’s various people. Each song seems perfectly suited and arranged to showcase the characters, always capturing the right tone (whether that be comic, violent or unsettlingly alien) to showcase their personalities and to serve the overall narrative. The music thumps, crashes and thrums throughout, conjuring a terrific and terrifying soundscape to fully realise the show’s redolent world.
Are lovely. Well, they’re not lovely. They’re horrible. And charming. And alien. And epic. A lovingly realised romantic triad between Arthur, Lancelot and Guievere? Check. An idealistic and doomed Morgause/Mordred? Check. Superbly creepy Saxon? Brrrr. Yeah. A doggedly brutal Gawain? Hells yeah. A righteously batshit Galahad? Preach it, son. The cast are the pulsing, bleeding heart of the show and goddamnit, even though I knew they were all doomed, they made me care.
And that’s what The Mechanisms do so well. Despite the fantastical nature of their stories and worlds, their characters are flawed and adorable and oh-so-human. You can’t help but care.
Star rating: 5/5 – everything just clicked on this one. Top fudging marks.
High Noon Over Camelot is at Whynot?, 14 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2PF from August 10-23 and is free as part of PBH Free Fringe.