photos: Niall McNeill stars in King Arthur's Night during the PuSH festival. Photo by Tristan Casey.

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Arts Preview: Read an excerpt of our look at this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

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With King Arthur's Night, local playwrights and actors Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef have reimagined the legend of King Arthur’s court replete with a 20-person choir, a live band, and dancing goats.

Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre brings the play to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, which runs from January 16 to February 4, 2018.

It’s not only a goat army that make this account of King Arthur’s court unique, but also the take on the story and songs that were shaped largely by McNeil, a professional actor with Down syndrome.

“You’ll hear language that is so Niall and equally, sometimes, so Shakespeare,” says Youssef. “Niall’s rhythms and idiom and associative gift with language, the poetry of some of it, is extraordinary.”

As the artistic director of Neworld Theatre, Youssef says he values McNeil’s ability to make connections and bridge ideas in ways he never could.

McNeil began acting as a child at the Caravan Farm Theatre just outside of Armstrong, B.C. He was inspired by then artistic director Nick Hutchinson and actor/director/poet “Jimmy” James Fagan Tait.

Youssef and McNeil met in a Leaky Heaven Circus production in 2000.

McNeil wanted to pen an adaptation of Peter Pan, so the pair started writing together. Leaky Heaven and Neworld presented Peter Panties at PuSh in 2011.

Originally commissioned for the Luminato arts festival in Toronto, where it premiered in June before playing at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, King Arthur's Night has been years in the making. The cast includes professional actors and three additional players from B.C.’s Down Syndrome Research Foundation.

Youssef, who recently won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize in Canadian theatre, recorded and transcribed his collaborative sessions with McNeil, who would sometimes speak a song. Youssef shared McNeil’s lyrics with composer Veda Hille, who also collaborated on Peter Panties and considers McNeil an “amazing” singer and improviser.

Josh Martin of Vancouver’s Company 605 choreographed the goats, which include dancers Amber Funk-Barton and Billy Marchenski. Christine Reimer designed the lavish costumes, and the whole production is directed by Theatre Replacement’s co-artistic director, James Long.

Neworld also presents Inside/Out at the PuSh Festival, in which actor Patrick Keating shares his real-life experience of robbing a bank and being a repeat offender.

King Arthur's Night and Inside/Out are Neworld’s seventh and eighth productions at the PuSh Festival. In 2013, Theatre Replacement and Neworld presented Winners and Losers, which subsequently played in more than 20 cities in at least a dozen countries.

Over three weeks this winter, PuSh hosts local productions as well as international shows from 11 countries.

Youssef hopes to see Hong Kong Exile’s show Foxconn Frequency (No. 3): For three visibly Chinese performers because he’s drawn to their innovative work, representation of the Asian diaspora and the way they, “speak about Vancouver as a Pacific city.

“They’re just a super exciting, interesting company whose work examines the borders between live performance and technology, and they’re really good at technology,” Youssef says. “It’s really high end.”

He’s also excited to participate in Blind Cinema. In this cinematic production, a film runs without dialogue while audience members are blindfolded and seated in front of a row of children, who describe what they’re seeing on screen in whispers.

King Arthur’s Night plays at the Frederic Wood Theatre (6354 Crescent Road at UBC) at 7:30 p.m., January 31 to February 3, with a 2 p.m. matinee on February 4. Tickets $39.

Foxconn Frequency plays at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright Street on Granville Island) at 7 p.m., January 31 to February 2. Tickets $39.

Blind Cinema happens at Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour Street) at 5 p.m., January 24, 25, 31 and February 1. Tickets $28.

Buy our January issue to read about seven more main stage PuSh picks!

 

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