THE WUFFINGS, East Anglian Daily Times
With flashing swords and flaming torches, the story of Raedwald, the king of the East Angles, is brought vividly to life by Eastern Angles.
It is a tale of love, plotting and power - conjured up in a giant modern potting shed.
The purpose-built theatre works beautifully as the actors strut, plot and fight the length of the 80 foot building, the audience in comfortable banked seating and within touching distance of the action.
This is not just a battle about kingdoms, this is the moment of breakthrough for Christianity in Suffolk, but Raedwald is a monarch built on cunning lines. He embraces Rome, is baptised in the freezing North Sea but clings handily on to his pagan gods just to make sure he gets all the help he can.
The show is full of stark images and there is clever use of carved benches that work brilliantly as a long ship, doors, altars and beds as well as seats, and the whole things is driven along by music that catches the mood of each dramatic movement.
Dark forces are clearly at work in the 7th Century, the Christians a touch on the weak side and used as figures of fun, but the story nevertheless grips the imagination and curries us along at a good rate through Raedwald's reign to his burial at Sutton Hoo.
Stephen Finegold's Raedwald is a clever mixture of vacillation and he is matched by a strong feminist wife queen, Carrie Tomas, helping to see her king through the political pitfalls of religious conversion. Even on his deathbed he cannot make up his mind and is tormented by pagan ghosts.
But the whole of this cast is neatly drilled. They all move and speak their words with passion and conviction, and they all sing beautifully. Among those who work well are William Haden, Janet Jefferies and Guy Moore.
This is well worth seeing. Get there early and have a hog-roast supper at the same time.
David Henshall, EADT
THE WUFFINGS, The Times
From almost any angle, The Wuffings is a madly epic endeavour. On a 90ft-wide cement stage covered by 21 tons of sand in the largest potting shed in Europe, Kevin Crossley-Holland and Ivan cutting stage a 7th century power struggle between an Anglo-Saxon royal family and the first Christian missionaries. Presented in partnership with the Year of the Opera and Music, Eastern Angles' production is infused with pastoral and folk melodies that owe more to the Sixties than the 600s.
That it seems inspired as much by Shakespeare as by Beowulf is par for the course. The struggle itself has more to do with tribal politics than religion. If Raedwald Wuffing is to become High King, he has to kowtow to Rome. Stephen Finegold's disgruntled, charismatic king decides to play a subtle but dangerous percentage game.
Thanks to Carrie Thomas's Lady Macbeth-like performance as Edith, the battle between the Woden-worshippers and the gospel-mongers is dramatically uneven. The Christians come across as slippery creeps who "spread guilt like dung" and the Angles monopolise the richest spiritual experiences.
My only serious gripe is that Crossley-Holland depends rather more on allegory than on action. What keeps the whole thing alive is Fred Meller's pagan theme park and some canny performances, notably Alastair Cording's wonderfully shifty priest. Tom Marshall puts up stout resistance as Raedwald's hard-line poet and adviser Lof. And Melanie Barker has a disarmingly wholesome singing voice as Edith's benevolent sorceress.
At times it can be a little too domestic for its own good. But you can't help but be thrilled by the obligatory battle scene, cued by a blacksmith who turns a tub of water into sizzling steam with a sheaf of red hot swords. It is undeniably one of the most eccentric cultural experiences you will see this summer.
Christopher James, The Times