Merlin, Nuffield Theatre Southampton

revsMerlin3MAGIC takes many forms. It can be good, it can be evil, it can charm and it can terrify.

And all of it can be found in the pages of books, which, in these days of brightly-lit tablets, phones and gizmos, provide a mysterious enchantment.

The Nuffield Theatre’s Christmas show this year is Merlin, written by Ollie Birch and Ella Hickson and performed at the Southampton University theatre until 3rd January. The magical musical unfolds in the book-filled library where, annually, the geekish librarians enact a story.

There’s that rush of involvement as they get into it, and we the audience are swirled into the detail and the excitement.

revsMerlin5This is the story of the boy Merlin’s life, and how a clumsy outsider learned to use his magic to save the kingdom.

Composer and MD Rob Castell, best known as a member of Barbershopera, demonstrates not just his tunesmithing talents but his acting, too. His French knight is a joy.

revsMerlin1Fred Lancaster is the head librarian turned Kinglet, with Kayla Meikle as a feisty Gwen, Joshua Manning a sonorous Uther, Sophie Reid as the wraithlike Lady of the Lake, Aryana Ramkhalawon as the selfie bride, and Adam Welsh in the title role.

The production, by Liam Steel, is full of invention, aided by Yannis Thavoris’ clever and versatile set.

This is not a Christmas show for the very youngest audiences, but it should delight those brought up on Harry Potter and his ilk.

It’s youthful and energetic – and its dragons are brought magically to life, the best among many effective special effects.


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