REVIEW: Le Navet Bete in King Arthur, York Theatre Royal, today, 2.30pm & 7.30pm ****

In the wink of an eye: Matt Freeman’s Guinevere in Le Navet Bete’s King Arthur. Picture: Craig Fuller

LE Navet Bete translates as “the daft turnip”. Cue fruit and vegetables being lobbed at the stage at the outset of this latest comic caper of precisely organised chaos from a trio of Exeter theatre-makers who met in student days and retain that anarchic spirit in the tradition of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson in The Young Ones and Bottom.

Making their fifth visit to York Theatre Royal, this one finds company regulars Nick Bunt, Al Dunn and Matt Freeman working with Peepolykus’s like-minded John Nicholason as co-writer and director, conjuring a re-telling of the legend of King Arthur as never told before, played faster and looser than all those Horrible Histories.

What’s the story, more daft than gory? King Arthur “knows that if he fails to turn things around, this civilization will be known as nothing more than a rather dull time in British history. But when three hapless squires approach him about changing that legacy…a legend in born.”

From a camper-than-camp opening pastiche of Queen’s infamous I Wanna Break Free video, through Kelis’s re-shaken Milkshake to The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army in the interval, the pop hits repurposed medieval style kept on coming as the plot not so much thickens as chases itself around a tree like a squirel.  

Add prog-rock, jazz fusion, orchestral score, medieval sitcom segues and re-imaginings of Cher, and no wonder composer and sound designer Jonny Wharton sums it up as ridiculous.

Thwack attack: Al Dunn, left, Matt Freeman and Nick Bunt in Le Navet Bete’s smash-hit King Arthur. Picture: Craig Fuller

Monty Python And The Holy Grail comes to mind as another influence, but like those cycling Shakespeareans The HandleBards, Le Navet Bete have developed their own style of physical comedy, one founded in the fast-moving, faster-witted comic camaraderie and delightful tomfoolery of the multi-role playing Bunt, Dunn and Freeman.

For all the measured order behind their comical disorder, they revel in the unpredictable nature of breakneck live theatre, the mishaps and malfunctions beyond the mayhem, the ad-libbing and the corpsing, joined gleefully by set and costume and designer Fi Russell on constant stage management duty, popping on in stealthy Milk Tray advert black to remove a mis-thrown stool at one point.

Le Navet Bete cram a lot into their Camelot, here represented in a castellated design by the playful Russell with doors aplenty in farce tradition, a water trough and a bucket on a rope: all signposts of pratfalls and slapstick to come.  

More than 50 costumes, even a pantomime horse, play their part as the likes of Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin and Percival are woven into a plot that spins ever more plates – and when a frying pan is to hand, what else would you do but belt someone in the face with it?! Pan-tomime of a different kind.

Should you miss day three of this riotous romp in York today, head to Cast in Doncaster on June 8, 7pm, or June 9, 11am and 3pm. Box office: York, 01904 623568 or; Doncaster, 01302 303959 or Suitable for legend-loving children and adults alike.