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Erik the Viking: review

Tom King sees Erik the Viking at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff

As a rule, reviewers are owls. Like astronomers, they work at night. So what was your correspondent up to, at 1.30pm, safely tucked up in the stalls of the Palace Theatre, when he should have been tucked up in bed?

Watching the most exciting, inventive, exhilarating and smokey plays to hit the Palace stage in many a long afternoon, that’s what. More about the smoke later.

But first let me urge all you nine to fivers to ring in sick and catch one of the matinee performances of Erik the Viking.

The show is represented as a children’s entertainment, designed for school parties. But why not office parties and chartered accoutnant’s outings as well? Send the kids off to see Inadmissable Evidence and save Erik for yourself.

In common with Andrew Llyod Webber’s latest show, Erik started life as a film, yet finds its natural home on stage – a reversal of the traditional process.

The film boasted special effects and spectacular scenes aplenty, yet oddly, the thing it lacked was magic. That is just the very quality that Laurence Sach’s adaptation now provides.

Erik was created by Terry Jones, who combines the comic genius of one of Monty Python’s leading spirits with a second career as a medieval scholar. Like Tolkien, his knowledge and feel for the dark ages proves him with the foundation for wonderful stories.

You also feel that he has got it right. This is how Vikings looked and dressed. This is how dragons smelt.

The story tells how Erik, a family man more notable for his intellect than his brawn, sets out on the seas to find a lost father and a lost sword. He is accompanied by a band of
fearless warriors, not forgetting one politically correct Vikingess.

Along the way he has adventues with, in no particualr order, coloured mist, a pyschopathic dragon, a spoilt enchanter’s daughter with a penchant for striptease, a hurricane forceful enough to take the wind out of even Michael Fish’s sails, ferocious werewolf-like creatures called dogfighters, a carniverous giant, red indians, and the giant waterfall at the edge of the world.

Some schools of acting, faced with the technical and financial limitations of the stage, would have made a dreary mime out of this. “Now children, imagine that there is a Viking ship in my cupped hands.”

But from the moment that Erik’s crew produce a ship’s mast apparently from nowhere and shin up it, you know that you will be in for a show of non-stop resourcefulness.

Highlight of the show must be Richard Ashton’s giant, garbed in ill-fitting string-vest, as low in self-esteem as he is lofty in height.

But the vikings, led by Jay Worthy as Erik and Simon Bridge as Ragner Forkbeard, brave of heart but content to leave the thoughtful stuff to Erik, flood the stage with an infectious enthusiasm that is perhaps the show’s greatest asset. The whole cast is young, athletic, and clearly having a good time. One just hopes that verve never gets knocked out of them by real-life demons and monsters like the Arts Council and mean critics.

Oh, and the smoke. That constantly billows from the wings, in all sorts of guises. To the delight of children in the audience, it envelops them as well as the actors – a completely new variant on the traditional fag behind the bicycle shed.

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