Northern Ballet: Merlin review – all-action take on the boy wizard

Nottingham Theatre Royal
Kevin Poeung impresses as the Arthurian sorcerer in an energetic but unsubtle telling for family audiences of his younger years

Drew McOnie’s first full-length ballet, Merlin, is a likable stab at a fantasy drama for a family audience, based on the story of the legendary wizard, with warring kingdoms, spear-fighting, stage magic, a smoke-breathing dragon and a mighty, LED-studded Excalibur.

The drivers of the plot are quests for power and romantic love – the big stuff – but Merlin’s story is more about family. Born of an encounter between a couple of frisky gods and adopted by a blacksmith single mum, he has a perfect fantasy of who his parents might be, but a more realistic relationship with his mum: of day-to-day exasperations and everyone doing their best but not quite making the other person happy (she wants him to deny his magic and join the army like everyone else) That journey is the real heart of the show.

The stage looks great (designed by Colin Richmond) the kingdom drenched in gold, the costumes both medieval and futuristic, while Grant Olding’s music clarifies the drama line by line. Best known for his work in musical theatre (Carousel, Jesus Christ Superstar), McOnie brings contemporary dance sensibility with added pointe shoes, playing out in bold strokes, swipes and diagonals, like writing Japanese kanji characters in the space. It could do with a little more vocabulary in places, though.

Kevin Poeung in Merlin
Lovely elevation … Kevin Poeung in Merlin. Photograph: Emma Kauldhar

The dancers are always moving, everything is action and plot (even if some details get lost). You don’t get much in the way of danced monologues, it’s very much an ensemble piece. But the soloists are good: Merlin (Kevin Poeung) is a great dancer, with lovely elevation; even when his character isn’t very sure of himself, the dancing is clear and steadfast. Antoinette Brooks-Daw is commanding as a Daenerys Targaryen type (with the fighting skills of Arya Stark) who gets hooked on power, sucking the magic out of Merlin, wreaking havoc because she can’t get the boyfriend she wants.

McOnie has missed a trick in not truly showing off what ballet dancers can do, in terms of the subtleties of technique, the way dance can really speak, or even soaring bravura steps. But it’s not bad for a first attempt.

Contributor

Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Northern Ballet review – dancing with dreams and facing fear
Works by Kenneth Tindall, Mlindi Kulashe and Morgann Runacre-Temple give these dancers a chance to get their bodies around abstraction

Lyndsey Winship

07, Nov, 2019 @11:56 AM

Article image
Northern Ballet: Dangerous Liaisons review – more sedate than seductive
The plot convolutions of De Laclos’ classic novel, and a shortage of real passion, hold back David Nixon’s adaptation

Lyndsey Winship

09, Jun, 2021 @10:40 AM

Article image
Northern Ballet: Cinderella – review

A new Cinderella with a fresh score and an enjoyable cast is hugely entertaining for the first half but falls short of true magic, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

20, Dec, 2013 @12:06 PM

Article image
Northern Ballet: Geisha review – potent fusion of romantic dance and Japanese horror
This lavish production uses cinematic design to chilling effect and terrific choreography to drive the drama

Sanjoy Roy

15, Mar, 2020 @11:52 AM

Article image
The Sleeping Beauty review – the Royal Ballet take your breath away
Yasmine Naghdi conquers physics in a fairytale production with intricate and intense performances

Lyndsey Winship

08, Nov, 2019 @12:59 PM

Dance review: Northern Ballet /Theatre Marlowe, Canterbury

Judith Mackrell enjoys a Nutcracker with a twist.

Judith Mackrell

08, Nov, 2007 @11:15 AM

Article image
Leeds united: Northern Ballet plot knees-up for 50th anniversary
Drew McOnie’s Merlin and Kenneth Tindall’s Geisha will mark the company’s remarkable half century, alongside digital archive

Chris Wiegand

13, Nov, 2019 @10:45 PM

Article image
Northern Ballet: The Great Gatsby – review

Choreographer David Nixon has a very good stab at adapting a complicated, literary plot to ballet, but it's not quite there, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

06, Mar, 2013 @12:53 PM

Article image
Royal Ballet: Coppélia review – hello, dolly!
Francesca Hayward sparkles in this twee revival, a luminous presence in an inconsequential story about a lifesize doll

Lyndsey Winship

29, Nov, 2019 @1:04 PM

Article image
Dance review: Northern Ballet Theatre / Marlowe, Canterbury

Director David Nixon has relocated Hamlet to German-occupied Paris in 1940, writes Judith Mackrell

Judith Mackrell

28, Feb, 2008 @4:59 PM