The big problem with the legends of King Arthur is it is all so derivative. Of course, that’s the reason it’s perfect for comedy…. but then the comedy itself becomes derivative. An absolutely typical trope in the classical literature is of Lancelot or Galahad, wrapped in self-rigteousness, charging in and taking down all and sundry without even a by-your-leave. And of course, Monty Python sends this trait up beautifully. But now I’m in the quandary of how best to use Lancelot without seeming to take too much from Monty Python. I’m currently working on a scene based upon The Knight of the Cart, which is, in itself, a work of classical comic juxtaposition, and I think I’ve achieved something different. That said, there’s only so much black comedy based around the decimation of Lancelot’s antagonisers I believe the average audience can cope with.
My take on Arthur is very much derived from my comedy’s origins as a sit-com idea. The comedy is designed to be anachronistic, full of metatextual jibes while remaining true to its source material. But, other than the all envasive shadow of the Python hanging over the text the whole time, I’ve been beset the whole time by how problematic the source material is. Some of those problems make it ripe for comedy. Other parts are less clear. Take Guinevere, for example. Guinevere and Lancelot’s infidelity is a core part of the history, and if I was in mind to create a certain kind of derivative comedy, Guin and Arthur’s characters would be ready made for me. And then, taking that further, has anyone else noticed how over-saturated classical Arthurian literature is with strong female characters? No, me neither – again, the all-male core cast of Python were perfect for the medium. This left me with having to build a more reasonable set of characters without either being too unfaithful to the original text or it seeming too much like a tick box exercise.
But these challenges have been part of the joy of writing this. A lot of my favourite parts of this play have come from approaching these, and other, challenges. So, when the performance finally reaches the light, look forward to meeting a great British Queen sitting alongside Guin who is well out of time, and the very many iterations of Elaine.