Michael Morpurgo’s enchanting 2002 take on Arthurian legend follows 10-year-old Bun as he comes to terms with sudden blindness after a head injury. Adapted for the stage by Tatty Hennessy, this production takes the fabled charm of Morpurgo’s novel – set in Bryher in the Isles of Scilly – and pushes it further, transforming it into a sensory adventure.
First we are greeted by a disembodied audiobook narrator who describes the intricacies of the baby blue bedroom set, designed by Louise Worrall. Here, Bun (Aarian Mehrabani) plans to record his own original story on a cassette, with the help of Viv (Kirsty Ferriggi), his SEN teacher, and his friend Anna (Tika Mu’Tamir). This story is a mythical journey where the happenings of Bun’s favourite book, The Legend of King Arthur, start to creep into his reality, eventually helping him to accept that his life “is only just beginning”.
The production, directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson, becomes an inclusive scrapbook of wonder. There are surtitles, audio explanations built into the narrative and facts about blindness to educate us. The world of Bun’s account is created by live sound effects. A leather jacket is creatively shaken by one actor to evoke the sound of a flapping sail, while a large bucket of water is splashed brutally to become waves. The audience are invited to squawk to resemble seagulls. All of it shows artistic vision.
Imaginative it may be, but Atkinson’s production isn’t always totally accomplished. Mehrabani’s portrayal of Bun veers towards monotonous, which makes finding the soul of his tale tricky, and Bun’s final resolution arrives abruptly, without the emotional build up to warrant such a drastic change of heart.
Still what the production lacks in finished polish it makes up for in purpose. Honouring Morpurgo’s original words, The Sleeping Sword is a detailed exploration of what it is like to live with a visual impairment in a time of inaccessibility. For children and adult audiences alike, it is audaciously creative.
At the Watermill, Newbury, until 5 November.