For anyone who has ever stumbled through Sir Thomas Malory's interminable Arthurian epic tales of times when days were old and knights were bold, their continuing influence on literature, film and drama may come as a surprise.
The problem for any current stage adaptation is the ghostly presence of Monty Python. The Python team's Holy Grail film and its spin-off Spamalot make any straight-faced portrayal of these knightly frolics almost impossible.
Writer Mike Poulton and director Greg Doran must have recognised the danger. The opening act of this three hour 40 minute RSC production avoids comic humour, largely through a barrage of high-decibel rhetoric.
Sam Troughton's youthful Arthur acquires the English crown by being the only one able to draw the sword Excalibur from the stone, and proceeds to establish the creation of his round table brotherhood of knights.
Later in the play however Monty Python seems to rule again, as a grotesquely attractive Lucifer in drag seduces Sir Percival away from his Holy Grail search.
The difficulty here is the weight of narrative. Poulton has kept as closely as possible to Malory's stylised prose but, as we try to sort out one armour clad warrior from another, exchanges such as "'Where are you going?'... 'To a dark forest'" don't help.
Tales that appealed to the romantic imaginations of earlier ages now reflect a modern cynicism as Sir Launcelot (Malory's spelling), Gawain et al proclaim their chivalric code of honour while indulging in revenge murders, incestuous relationships and deceitful infidelity.
The production does not need to underline the hypocrisy. Jonjo O'Neill's Launcelot defiantly proclaims his and Queen Guenever's innocence after we have all witnessed his unknightly, nightly cavortings with Kirsty Woodward's Queen.
In Malory's world, damsels must be rescued, but otherwise women hardly rate unless they embody evil. So Arthur, contemplating the burning of his unfaithful Queen, laments: "Queens might I have in plenty, but such a fellowship of knights shall I never see again."
The large cast puts in 100 per cent effort and the RSC design, lighting and music teams - especially the percussion - provide impressive support. Gawain's imprecation "no more language" does sum up a sense of relief, however, when Arthur is finally morte. Mallory's poetic warning, "men say that he shall come again," is a terrifying prospect for this audience!
Plays until 28th August: Box Office: (0844) 8001-110.